The shame I had felt at T’Pring’s rejection has since given way to shock and horror at her choice of a champion. I had cast off any thought of regaining my dignity, and in vain I had begged for the life of my captain.
“I will do what I must, T'Pau, but not with him. His blood does not burn. He is my friend!”
“It is said thy Vulcan blood is thin. Are thee Vulcan or are thee human?”
“I burn, T'Pau. My eyes are flame. My heart is flame. Thee has the power, T'Pau. In the name of my fathers, forbid. Forbid! T'Pau, I plead with thee. I beg!”
I am Vulcan. I burn.
I should not have been able to speak at all, as thick as the haze of need lies over me, but I begged for my friend.
I watch Jim confer with the doctor and note in confusion his obvious reluctance.
Why does Jim do this if he is unsure? Why would he choose to fight?
For the briefest moment I hover on the edge of clarity, of understanding, but then my captain’s voice rings out, and my heart seizes.
“I accept the challenge.”
Jim comes to face me, his skin already glistening with sweat, and I instinctively brace myself for an attack.
So this is it. He has truly made his decision. I had hoped…
Something in me seems to collapse into the fiery shambles of my mind.
That he has accepted the challenge, declaring his willingness to fight for the woman who was to be my bondmate, is like a blade through my heart. I would weep—so great is my pain and so tenuous my control over it—but the fire burns away my tears and each searing breath chokes me.
I am betrayed, but I cannot find it in me, even in the midst of the fever, to hate Jim. I cannot kill him, not even to secure the mate who would see me through this madness. I will fight because I must, but I will not kill my captain.
A lirpa is pushed into my hands and I clutch it tightly, warily regarding my friend. I cannot bear the thought of fighting this man, but I must. The fever demands it. Tradition demands it. The cool, discerning eyes of the Vulcans present demand it.
Jim’s innocent bewilderment as he stares down at the weapon in his hands nearly breaks me, and I fight the urge to throw down my own weapon and let the fever take me. This is all wrong. Surely my friend could not harm me. He cannot truly mean to take my life here on the coarse red sands of my home planet.
I must end this quickly. I must subdue Jim, force him to surrender.
The bells rattle, harsh, discordant, and the fight begins.
Staff clashes with staff, and Jim barrels forward, shoving me back. I stagger, surprised by his aggression, then swing the blade end of my lirpa to drive him back.
For a moment time seems to freeze, and I stare in horror at what I have done. Jim’s shirt is torn and his smooth chest oozes blood. He looks down at the wound, then back at me, and something in his expression dulls my fires for a moment.
The moment passes when Jim retaliates, knocking me to the ground.
My very spirit screams, simultaneously protesting his violence and urging me to end this immediately and with force.
I gain my feet and swing the lirpa again and again, relentlessly harrying my captain. Jim’s retreat makes my blood sing at the promise of victory, and I hardly notice when the blunt end of my lirpa shatters the ceremonial gong.
Jim lands a hit to my stomach, and the pain radiates sharply through me as I fall to the ground, dropping my weapon. I grind my teeth as Jim leaps on me, pushing the staff of his lirpa toward my throat. I thrust it away, hearing the breaking of the blade end, and dive for my own weapon.
I swing at him, charging after him as he backs away. I am eager to feel him writhe beneath me in defeat, desperate for his surrender. I swing harder, swiping too close to delicate human skin and bone.
I will save him. I will keep him somehow. I will…
Jim catches my lirpa and throws me over. I land hard and roll through the sand, my jaw clenching as rage courses through me.
I must prevail.
I hit Jim and his body is airborne for a moment before hitting the ground. Part of me cries out in recrimination as I come to stand over my fallen captain, but I raise the lirpa, driving the blade toward him. The movement carries my weight behind it but is slow enough for him to move, and he rolls to the side even as the doctor cries out in alarm.
His kick knocks me down, but when I leap to my feet T’Pau’s voice cries out, “Kroykah!”
I remain where I stand, ready for another attack and poised to launch my own.
Jim crouches on the ground, his chest heaving, and I watch him intently. I feel a pressure, a tightness in my own chest as Jim struggles for air. This is not right. Why has T’Pring done this to us? Does she find me so loathsome that she would pit me against my captain, my friend, rather than join with me? Does she have so little regard for life?
Jim’s voice pulls me from my thoughts, and I realize that the doctor is giving him something. Medicine. I nearly shudder with relief, grateful for McCoy’s solicitude.
The bells rattle...
I accept the ahn-woon when it is given to me and tear my eyes off Jim as I contemplate the quickest way to bring this fight to an end. Though the fever has weakened me, my strength is still greater than Jim’s, and there is danger that I will truly injure him if this goes on much longer.
I must subdue him.
Even as Jim stares at the strap in his hand in bafflement I swing my own ahn-woon so that it wraps around his legs. I take dark delight in bringing him down, but then he throws me. I roll to my feet and brace myself against a stone column, feeling my thoughts churn in fury at Jim’s ability to repeatedly thwart me.
As Jim struggles with his ahn-woon, I leap on him, knocking him flat against the ground. It feels good to have him beneath me, and something in me pulls tight. I grow warmer as fire surges through my veins anew.
When Jim rolls us, sitting astride me, I am unable to put up any real resistance. His thighs, braced against me, confuse and distract me, as does the sudden blast of scent that assails me. Human scent, sweat and blood and something else that makes me want to arch up into him.
Then his fist comes down on my chest, knocking the wind from my lungs. I would cry out, but I have no voice. He hurts me, my captain. He strikes again, his fist pounding against me, and though the physical damage is minimal, something in me breaks.
My eyes clouding, I roll us over, then wrap my ahn-woon around Jim’s neck. Hardly knowing what I mean to do, I drag him to the fire pit and push him down toward the glowing coals. I do not want this, I do not mean to hurt him, but I cannot bear it if he strikes me again.
Please, let this end!
Jim’s legs come up to my sides, clamping against me, and it is the choked breaths he wheezes out that spur me into motion again. I yank him away from the heat of the pit, but I lose my balance and fall with Jim on top of me.
I tighten the ahn-woon, and though I hate the sight of it biting into Jim’s throat, I know that I must weaken him enough that he cannot go on fighting.
When Jim’s hands go around my neck I become desparate. How has it come to this? How is it that hands that have so often clutched my shoulder in support or gently stroked my arm in comfort are now wrapping around my throat?
My captain...my friend seeks to end my life.
I tighten the ahn-woon, gritting my teeth against the pain that transfers into me from him, mingling with my own growing anguish. If I can just render him unconscious…
Jim makes a terrible, choked noise, and falls off of me to the ground. Something is wrong. I cannot feel him.
I lift Jim by his shirt, and by the ahn-woon still around his neck, and stare down at him in horror. His chest does not move. He does not breathe.
A chill sweeps through me.
“Kroykah!” T’Pau cries.
But I have already stopped. The fire that has raged within me for days flares and dies, leaving ash in my veins. My thoughts cool, sharpen, then grow desolate as I look down at the still form of my captain. Sweat lies beaded on flesh still warm from so much exertion, but no breath parts his full lips and his golden eyes are closed to me forever.
What have I done?
“Get your hands off of him, Spock.” Doctor McCoy is suddenly there, elbowing me aside. I deserve the disgust in his voice, I deserve his censure.
Somewhere within me the tiniest spark of hope still lights the growing darkness in my mind, but it splutters out when the doctor confirms, “It’s finished. He’s dead.”
Why did Jim choose this path? The answer comes to me suddenly, filling me with regret that the fever kept me from understanding it sooner. Jim meant to keep me from fighting Stonn.
He meant to protect me.
“I grieve with thee,” T’Pau says.
Grieve? No. She cannot truly grieve what has been lost here. She never knew the golden light of Jim’s soul, never felt it’s warm touch against her mind, and so cannot truly perceive the shadow its loss casts over everything.
I turn and move away, my legs shaking beneath me. My trembling fingers undo the sash tied around my waist, and I cast my gaze down as McCoy follows after me.
“As strange as it may seem, Mr. Spock, you’re in command now. Any orders?” His voice is calm, but when I look up there is judgement in his eyes.
“Yes.” I pause to catch my breath, fighting down nausea. I am in control of myself once again, and it should be simple thing to suppress this feeling of sickness. “I will follow you up in a few minutes.
“You will instruct Mr. chekov to plot a course for the nearest starbase…” I glance up at T’Pring, wanting her to hear this, to fully comprehend it, “where I must surrender myself to the authorities.”
Let her understand that what has happened here was not merely an adherence to tradition, but a crime. Jim, gone...let her know that I fully intend to face the consequences for this wrongdoing, even if she remains unpunished for her part in it.
Still, I wonder what could have motivated her to do such a thing. Surely she does not despise me so much.
She steps forward, haughty and beautiful. “Specify.”
“Why the challenge, and why you chose my captain as your champion.”
“Stonn wanted me. I wanted him.”
My heart clenches and my mind churns in misery. My captain died for this? So that my betrothed could publicly declare her preference for another? Anger flares, but I exert my newly restored controls to suppress it.
“I see no logic in preferring Stonn over me.”
“You have become much known among our people, Spock. Almost a legend. And as the years went by, I came to know that I did not want to be the consort of a legend. But by the laws of our people, I could only divorce you by the kal-if-fee.”
My stomach gives a sick lurch as I process this. It is possible for betrothal bonds to be broken, but during the pon farr, when a physical union of the betrothed pair becomes critical, the only legal alternative to consummation of the bond is the kal-if-fee.
T’Pring tilts her chin up as she continues, her voice smooth and sure.
“There was also Stonn, who wanted very much to be my consort, and I wanted him. If your captain were victor, he would not want me, and so I would have Stonn. If you were victor you would free me because I had dared to challenge, and again I would have Stonn. But if you did not free me, it would be the same. For you would be gone, and I would have your name and your property, and Stonn would still be there.”
“Logical,” I say, my voice hard. “Flawlessly logical.”
T’Pring dips her head in acknowledgment. “I am honored.”
She truly does not understand.
She misinterprets my comment for a compliment, so blind is she to the cruelty of what she has done. She sees only the logic in her actions, and though she was within her rights to make such a choice, the brutality of that choice goes against one of the most important tenets of Surak’s teachings.
As far as possible, do not kill. Can you return life to what you kill? Then be slow to take life.
Jim’s...death was not necessary.
“Stonn,” I say. When he steps forward I continue, “She is yours. After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”
His face shows no hint of emotion, but I see him stiffen slightly.
I pull out my communicator, grateful that my hands no longer shake. “Spock here. Stand by to beam up.”
As I turn away I see T’Pring lower her eyes, the first sign of thoughtfulness that I have seen from her. Perhaps she begins to regret her actions. Perhaps the finality of death, the tragedy of an innocent man’s untimely demise, has begun to weigh on her conscience. Or perhaps not.
In any case, she is no longer my concern.
I turn my back on T’Pring and her lover, and I approach T’Pau. I stop before her and raise my hand in salute.
“Live long, T'Pau, and prosper.”
“Live long and prosper, Spock,” she responds, raising a wizened hand to mirror mine.
“I shall do neither. I have killed my captain and my friend,” I say, and I mean it. I am broken, lost, and I do not care to contemplate my future, because my future does not have Jim in it. Though I do not deserve it, I long for release from the deep, throbbing pain that is building inside me.
As our hands lower, I see a sudden flash of understanding in T’Pau’s eyes, and then regret, but I am too empty to take satisfaction in it. Were my soul not so weary I would resent her for the part she played in the proceedings here, despite my own respect for Vulcan tradition.
I walk away from her, away from Stonn and T’Pring, away from the place where I lost a vital part of myself. How had I not known until now that Jim’s soul was as much a part of me as my own?
There is no escaping the pain of this realization.
“Energize.” My voice is strong, not my own. As I begin to dematerialize I wholly embrace the weightless feeling of non-being.
I have killed my captain, my friend, and I realize too late, my t’hy’la.
I have as good as killed myself.