The only consistent thing between the Stonns of each universe, I must observe, is the man's absolute, adamant insistence on getting in the way of my sex life.
It is not an appealing trait.
"Uh, what?" Jim says, standing in the stands of the newly-built ceremony circle, looking at my younger counterpart - the Spock of this timeline. He is the picture of incredulity.
"I challenge this bond," Stonn reiterates, his face set, blue eyes fixed dead ahead of himself. His hands are at his sides, the beginning signs of Pon Farr showing only in the tightening of his fingers, the veins pulsing around his wrists. I had been pleasantly surprised upon meeting this Stonn to find that he shared neither his counterpart's narrowness of view, nor his propensity towards belligerence. The Stonn of this universe is open-minded, insightful, and adventurous - apparently more so than anyone had anticipated.
"What the fuck do you mean, you challenge us?" Jim demands, but he is cut off by the presiding elder. She is not T'Pau. T'Pau died with the planet she spent a lifetime devoted to, killed in the collapsing temple around her. But K'Tai has a similarly formidable countenance, and so when she snaps 'kroykah', even Jim, who does not speak the language, has no trouble discerning her meaning.
"On what grounds do ye challenge?" K'Tai asks.
Stonn draws a breath, straightening his shoulders, clasping his hands at the base of his spine. Around us the air is hot and oppressive, the sand glittering upon the dunes in the distance, wind carrying fine grains towards the walls and buildings of the settlement. "The human. Kirk," Stonn replies, looking neither at Jim, nor at my younger self. "I desire him."
What can only be described as an astonished silence descends over the assembled onlookers. From his post near my younger self, I can see my father raise his eyebrows in disbelief. Jim looks utterly flabbergasted, righteous indignation and insult buried underneath the abrupt turn from offence to shock - his mouth is slightly open, eyes wide, one of his hands trapped in mid-motion. But my younger self is truly the sight worth beholding.
The points of his fingers rest against one another, aiding in his concentration as the stresses of the blood fever begin to show upon him as well, a few rivulets of perspiration trailing down his temples, his breath heavy and his stance tense. His expression is fixed, but his eyes - his eyes are murderous. They are locked upon Stonn with such hate that it is almost palpable. I wonder if, in my own time, I was ever so viscerally emotive.
That he maintains his stance and his silence only seems to make such energies all the more palpable.
"What the fuck?" Jim demands, and I am once again taken aback by how - for lack of a better term - ineloquent this universe's version of him is. He has none of my Jim's tact, though whether that is a product of environment or maturity, I am uncertain. My own often told me that he was much more tempestuous before he 'hit thirty'. "Okay, look, buddy, I'm flattered and all, but I'm not interested. I've already picked Spock out and everything."
Stonn ignores him. "I am entering my Time. I have the right to make a claim, to challenge a claim, and I will challenge this one."
"Are you listening? I am Not. Interested."
"Kroykah," K'Tai demands again. The muscles in my younger self's arms are beginning to shake. It is all he can do to avoid one of two actions, I know - either killing Stonn, or claiming Jim. His instincts compel both, and for the moment, that indecision is aiding him in maintaining a facade of control. "If ye are desirous to challenge, Stonn, then that is thy right." She turns to Jim, then, her face an inscrutable mask, though there are the barest traces of frustration in her countenance if one knows what to look for. "Kirk, ye are unbonded and not of our people. Should ye choose to forgo the ceremony, ye will submit to neither Spock nor Stonn, and be unimpeded."
Jim pauses. Blinks. I can see it clearly as he reasons out what is being said, and force myself to bury a stab of pain - his face is like a phantom out of my memories. But his eyes are not, and so I look at those instead. They are bright. Expressive. Different.
"You're saying I can just walk away," he notes. "What happens to Spock?"
K'Tai does not even blink. "Ye will forgo the ceremony, the right to bonding. Spock will find another. Or, he will die."
"But I don't even want Stonn!" Jim protests, gesturing towards the tall, silent Vulcan who stands only a few feet away from me. "I just want Spock!"
"The bonding has been challenged. This is the way of our people. Of all who are Vulcan," K'Tai recites. "If Spock be Vulcan, then by our rules he be bound."
Jim's fists are clenched. He grits his teeth, and now it is something of a contest to see who is radiating more frustrated contempt - him, or my younger self. Truly, in such a state, he is a sight to behold. Righteous in his indignation at archaic, illogical customs, firm in his loyalty to my younger self, unintimidated by the pomp and ceremony of an alien culture. He will not back down, I know. He shares the same heart as the man who once dragged me out of my very grave to return to his side.
"You call this logic?" Jim demands. "What about my rights? What about Spock's?"
The line of K'Tai's mouth hardens almost imperceptibly. "It is not logic. In this time, we do not look to logic, for in this time, logic cannot prevail."
"Maybe not for Spock and Stonn," Jim argues. "But what are you here for if you can't impose some kind of order on this shit?"
"Kroykah!" the elder snaps, louder than I was expecting. Her ceremonial staff hits the ground hard, calling up a brief plume of dust and grit. "You know not what it is to be Vulcan, Human. Go, and relinquish your attempt at a bonding, or remain, and let the challenge stand."
This Jim is far more contentious than my own. He is not cowed, and he has no reserves of cultural and political sensitivity to restrain his temper. "No way. No fucking way," he insists, folding his arms across his chest, as if through sheer strength of will he can change centuries upon centuries of tradition. Because it is him, I almost believe he can. "Spock told me about all of this shit. If he and Stonn fight, then one of them's going to die. I can't believe you're still letting this go on! Your population's not gonna get any bigger if you run around killing yourselves for the sake of tradition," he says, spitting the word 'tradition' with pure mockery in his tone.
I decide to interrupt at this point, largely because I am beginning to question K'Tai's ability to remain impartial. She has never cared for aliens, I know, and I fear she may banish Jim from this arena altogether if her neutrality is sufficiently compromised. "The killing rights are no longer included in these ceremonies, Jim," I tell him. Astonishingly, my younger self turns his murderous stare onto me. I am careful to keep from entering the circle around them, lest he think that I am making a bid of my own. "Neither Stonn nor Spock will die, though they may suffer injury."
Jim looks at me, although he does not relent. "This is still fucking retarded," he mutters under his breath. "So what? I'm supposed to stand here, and if Stonn wins, I go to him? Even if I don't want him?"
"You will not."
The onlookers all pause in surprise as my younger self speaks. He is deep into his plak tow, and all save Jim and myself are clearly taken aback by his ability to voice a coherent thought. In this instance, the human blood I spent useless years at war with is proving useful, allowing him to push through the layers of fire and the burning of his Vulcan drives. "I will win," he declares with iron certainty.
Jim hesitates, a crack beginning to show in his air of defiant bravado. The lines of his eyes soften into worry. He moves closer to my younger self. "Spock," he says, his voice low and quiet, though all the Vulcan ears around him can hear him nonetheless. "You don't have to do this. We can go back to the ship, get married under standard Federation law. Why should you submit to this? It isn't even logical." His argument is a good one. As I am now, I might even accept it, for I have lived long enough and endured enough that I no longer care for the opinions of others.
But I know what my younger self will say.
"I am Vulcan," he manages, before the lines on his face tighten, and he squeezes his eyes shut. He trembles. Over near to me, Stonn's hands shake, his gaze fixed upon Jim and Jim's proximity to his self-proclaimed rival.
"Time grows short, Kirk," K'Tai breaks in. "Ye must choose. Go, or stay?"
Jim looks at my younger self. Then he looks at Stonn. I know what he is thinking. If he leaves now, then my younger self will either bond with another, or die. Neither seem desirable outcomes to him. If he stays, then he risks becoming bonded to another - to one whom he does not want.
For a moment, I am tempted to reach over and incapacitate Stonn. To drag him bodily from the arena and force him to forfeit his claims. But age has taken its toll on my strength, and even had it not, such an act would be unprecedented. I do not even know if it would solve anything. So the moment passes, pushed away to the long annals of my memory as Jim takes in a deep breath and briefly lowers his head.
"Stay," he says.
The bells begin to ring.
"So it has been chosen. The challenge shall begin."
I can but dimly recall my first Pon Farr, where I almost killed my own t'hy'la upon the sands, and became resigned to die myself when I thought I had. Even then, Jim was more to me than any other person had ever been. Friend and brother, not yet lover. I am glad I do not remember the fight in any great detail - the immediate aftermath is still unpleasant enough to recall. But however violent and mad I was when I fought Jim for T'Pring, I am almost positive it did not hold a candle to watching my younger self fight Stonn for Jim.
The traditional round with the use of the lirpas is foregone, perhaps in deference to the non-lethal nature of these fights, but as my younger self takes hold of his ahn-woon it seems no less deadly. The weapon only stays dormant in his grasp for an instant. Then it is singing through the air, catching Stonn's legs as the blue-eyed Vulcan still attempts to gain a good hold on his own. He is swept off of the ground, the metal balls clacking as the weapon is retracted, then re-aimed - at his head, at his neck. Stonn rolls, but my younger self's assault is relentless and uncompromising. The ahn-woon circles Stonn's neck and he is dragged across the sand, one hand clenched against the unyielding fabric, the other aiming futilely with his own weapon.
Stonn is beyond words, now, as he finally manages to wrench himself free, only to have his feet knocked out from beneath him again. But my younger self seems to have found some. They escape him in a stream of profanities, some terms which only exist in the oldest forms of our language, and I find myself raising an eyebrow at the... color of his chosen insults.
It would seem that he has picked up a few things from exposure to his less-polished Jim Kirk.
"Na vuthesh k'hrahl s'wa, tviokh," he hisses as he lashes the side of his ahn-woon against the side of Stonn's head, the metal beads carving several lines of green blood over his brow. "Wakli a'kohmin var?"
'You will not steal from me, scum. Wish you to 'try' human?' There is such unbridled disdain, such brutal mockery in his tone, that for a moment I pity Stonn.
"I'tah sra khnaleth, fee lohrek i'tal yas vrauhun. Ponfo miran, ti'amah."
Even K'Tai looks momentarily taken aback at that particular choice of sentiments. Perhaps due to the anatomical improbabilities involved. My younger self decides to emphasize his point by aiming the ahn-woon around Stonn's neck and pulling, bringing his opponent face-down into the ground with enough force to break his nose. Then he grabs the fabric between his hands, and twists. There is scrabbling. There is choking. Stonn discards his ahn-woon for the sake of attempting to free himself.
"Kroykah!" K'Tai calls.
My younger self does not hear her. She shouts again, and then Jim is there, darting past the attendants and onto the sand. His boots kick up a small trail of dust as he launches himself at his Spock, pulling him insistently away from Stonn, who is still gasping for breath.
"Enough, Spock, enough, you won, don't kill him, alright, you're not a murderer, don't, it's alright, you won," I hear him say into the cup of my younger self's ear, his arms around his shoulders. My younger self is shaking. His hands clench and unclench. His eyes are squeezed shut. It is taking every inch of his control to keep him from grabbing Jim to him, and once that last barrier is breached, all thought of decency and decorum will be shredded like parchment through a set of warp coils.
"Challenge has been met and answered. Spock, ye are the victor," K'Tai says, and perhaps in appreciation for the waning timeline they are operating upon, moves to cement the bond between them. Her hands fall onto their brows. It is the work of mere seconds - I suspect because the foundations for a bond are already well in place. My younger self has not wasted the time which I did, wavering between tradition and modernity, warring with his emotions, battling against the desirable and the inevitable.
The creation of the bond stems some of the tide of plak tow. Jim kisses my younger self upon his temple, heedless of the relative appropriateness of such a display. "I love you," he says.
My younger self's throat bobs. His hands come up, resting atop the arms still around his shoulders.
"I love you as well, Jim," he softly admits into the corner of his shoulder.
For a moment it is all that I can do to continue breathing. He has said it. Here, on these sands, in Jim's arms, another version of myself has uttered the words which I never could. Out loud. Not in the confines of his mind, not in circuitous sentiments or with curious deflections. Even after I myself was aware of the truth of such a statement, I could never bring myself to give voice to it. To admit to such love was not only to say that one had felt something, or might feel something. To admit to it was to say that I had loved, would love, and intended to keep on loving for all of the foreseeable future. An act so utterly un-Vulcan that even now I reflexively recoil.
He should not have said it.
I envy him for saying it.
Wishing is illogical, as is regretting, but I would that I had said it. My Jim deserved to hear it. He deserved to know the truth of it, beyond a doubt, the way that all humans wish to know that they are loved.
Uttering the words seems to have a peculiarly stabilizing effect upon my counterpart. He stands, leaning against Jim, one arm looped through his. When he looks towards me, his gaze is oddly clear and lucid - the plak tow has not abated. But neither does it rule him. His eyes meet mine, flickering to Jim for a moment, and then back again as Jim produces his communicator.
"It's done, Scotty. Better beam us back up. I don't think we'll be able to make it to the party tonight," he says, relief coloring his voice.
My younger self continues to stare at me. There is a question in that look, though it takes me a moment to realize it. This, he silently asks. Is this what you were referring to? His gaze drifts to the arm looped through his own, the gold-clad body beside him.
I follow it. I look upon the form of this alternate James T. Kirk, dust-covered and slightly sunburned as he is, defiant and constant and splendidly human. It is the closest I will ever come to seeing my own again.
I look back, and I nod, for one moment permitting the tides of grief and love and nostalgia glide over me.
My other self and his Jim vanish in a tide of glittering matter, transported back to the ship that is their home and the crew who are their family. I move to help the others gather up Stonn from where he has fallen. He will need a healer, and the matter of his own unabated Pon Farr will have to be settled. There are several potential candidates for him within the settlement. I am reasonably confident that he will not die.
His eyes are slightly dazed as I help prompt him to his feet, blood trailing down the side of his face and along his opposite shoulder. "Selek," he acknowledges, the cold weight of defeat apparently restoring some semblance of sense to him. I know well how it is.
"Stonn," I reply, as K'Tai takes up her seat upon her litter, and one of the attendants leaves to inform a healer of what has transpired. "I find myself curious. If I may ask a personal query?"
Stonn's mouth tightens, and he brushes some of the blood from his brow. "You wish to know why I sought to challenge," he surmises.
He looks away. I examine him for a moment, wondering if he will answer me, and comparing him to the faded image of an old memory. The destruction of Vulcan has served none of us well. But it has also dragged many things, many dark, oft-overlooked things, kicking and screaming to the surface. The fight which just transpired is but one example; a few years ago, Stonn would be dead. Instead he is alive, and there is no logical reason to desire otherwise. Life is not a commodity. A surplus or dearth of it should have no effect upon its value.
"It was a logical choice," Stonn says, his gaze averted from my own. "My... my greatest friend in life was bonded to Spock. She died with Vulcan, but had she not, then she would have been taken from me through her marriage bond instead." He tilts his head slightly, some of his focus waning. "Spock dishonored her. He did not want her, he did not speak to her, he made nothing of their promise beyond the potential necessities of the mating drive. I cannot avenge her death, but it was at least possible for me to equate her slight."
My eyebrow goes up of its own accord. "I fail to see the logic in vengeance."
"In vengeance itself, there is none," Stonn agrees. "But if vengeance is the goal, one can still take a logical path to achieve it." He shudders, and I find myself disturbed to see a Vulcan acting and thinking thus. "My failure is regrettable. The human would have made a suitable partner, and both the issue of Spock and of my own condition would be resolved."
"I do not believe you would have found Captain Kirk as amenable a mate as you believe," I reply.
Stonn looks at me then. "He is human," he says, with a dismissive hand gesture. "They are emotional creatures, easily aroused. I doubt he would have remained resistant for long. His reputation for indiscriminately choosing sexual partners precedes him."
Not so terribly different from the Stonn of my universe as I had first thought, then. I reach over, my fingers finding purchase against his shoulder, and am perhaps more satisfied than I ought to be when he slumps back to the ground. Unconscious this time. Truly, it is a mercy for him to sleep while his injuries are tended to, given his condition.
That it also silences him is extraneous, but far from unfortunate.
I leave him to the care of the healers, pausing for a moment to examine, once more, the ceremonial circle around me. It is not a perfect recreation. Then again, it was not intended to be. The gong has been rebuilt, though in this instance it saw no use. Pillars mark the boundaries of the area, and where before the circle was situated upon a cliff carved from a mountain in ancient times, now it simply stands beyond the borders of the colony.
Yet it is close enough that my mind takes little prompting to see two ghosts standing there. One clad in gold, one clad in blue.
"Spock... are our ceremonies for outworlders?"
"They are not outworlders. They are my friends. This is Kirk."
"And ye are called?"
"Leonard McCoy, ma'am."
"Ye call these outworlders friends? How does ye pledge their behavior?"
"With my life, T'Pau."
I close my eyes, the images moving from the wide sands to the inside of my eyelids instead, increasingly foggy and disjointed from that point on. Fighting. Desperation. The fog clearing from my mind to see Jim's seemingly lifeless form dangling from my hands. I believed then that his death was to be my own end, as well. I could not have gone on with the knowledge that I had killed him.
"Doctor, please, let me finish. There can be no excuse for the crime of which I'm guilty, I intend to offer no defense. Furthermore, I shall order Mr. Scott to take immediate command of this vessel."
"Don't you think you better check with me first?"
That blinding joy... at times I wonder if I could have suppressed it, even had I not been suffering from the aftermath of the blood fever.
I open my eyes again, carefully placing my memories back where they belong, reordering my mind so that some semblance of calm and peace takes hold of it once more. If T'Pring's own considerably more underhanded plan had failed, then Stonn's direct attempt at vengeance had no hope of succeeding. Turning, I fold my hands behind my back, feeling some of the muscles in my shoulders twinge as I begin to make my way back towards the colony. The familiar weight of a holographic chip shifts against my chest.
This universe will learn in time to stop imposing itself between the Spock and Jim who belong to it, I am sure.
In the end, such efforts can never truly succeed. Not between us.
Not between them.
Somehow this came out all Amok Time and Spock-Prime flavored. Huh. Still, I hope it'll do.
The only consistent thing between the Stonns of each universe, I must observe, is the man's absolute, adamant insistence on getting in the way of my sex life.