T'Ra's hand approached Spock's face as he knelt on the unforgiving stone. Two acolytes each held his arms to restrain him. The sun of New Vulcan beat down at high noon, its heat a searing distraction from the ritual about to take place.
"Spokh, confirm that this is your free choice; once the bond is severed, there can be no return. Given the strength of the bond the measures necessary for its removal are uncertain."
"T'Ra," he replied, "of my free choice do I seek this."
T'Ra nodded. "Let it be as you say. Your thoughts: give them to me."
Spock opened his mind, willing its contents laid bare to the priestess, leading her relentlessly through the natural resistance of his psyche to the centre of himself. For a moment he observed the quivering, vulnerable essence, shrinking before the presence of its destroyer like one about to be unjustly executed. It was as though the thread of the bond were, momentarily, sentient, aware of the imminent threat to its existence. He wavered, a bare moment of doubt, before ruthlessly crushing the thought; he had striven for this moment for seven years, and having set his feet to this path, it was logical to see it through.
There in front of him the skein, worn thin through space and his efforts to suppress the bond as far as possible, wove—frayed perhaps, but still strong. This was why he required the assistance of a priestess, a master of the mind arts: severing it was not something he could achieve on his own. He had tried and failed, back in the early days of his time on New Vulcan, and ultimately abandoned the attempt after his trensu assessed the bond. Master T'Sai had canvassed with him the possible measures required to break the marriage bond, the most extreme of which was the nullification of his bonding centre. Not all kolinahru required such a drastic measure, but in Spock's case if he wished to attain the state of kolinahr, the detachment from emotion, it might become necessary.
Necessary, he told himself again, stepping forward mentally with intent. His own psyche shrank from him. With effort, he wrested his thoughts back into the seamless patterns of logic.
This is the source of much emotional disturbance for you, Spokh, T'Ra said.
Indeed, Lady. Once it is complete I shall deal logically with the remaining emotions, to purge them as I have been instructed, and as I have practiced these past seven years.
T'Ra's mental presence signaled affirmation. Are you so sure that this is the correct path? Speak truth, Spokh: beware lest you deceive yourself.
Kaiidth. I am prepared.
Then let us begin. T'Ra laid a hand to the first strand in the skein and memory opened around them.
Spock's years of happiness in being bonded to James Kirk were seven in all. They were joined in a ceremony on New Vulcan, in the new place of Marriage or Challenge, in the fourth year of the first five-year mission of the Enterprise.
Their first year had been happy, their bond a source of delight and mutual strengthening. Their time together in San Francisco for the intervening year and a half during which the Enterprise was being upgraded had been mostly harmonious. And the first three and a half years of the second five-year mission, while they had their ups and downs, were satisfactory also, the two continually discovering new levels to their relationship.
Cracks had started to appear eighteen months before the conclusion of the mission. Spock couldn't pinpoint an exact time, and for all that he had striven in the years since, he'd been unable to identify the trigger. It could have been any number of things, or a cumulation of all of them: Jim being captured by Klingons and tortured using their mind-sifter until even the mention of his own name was enough to make him scream and convulse in agony; Spock engaging in a three month ritual involving celibacy and not touching others on the tenth anniversary of the destruction of his homeworld, and which was concluded by a rite conducted by the Clan on New Vulcan to which Kirk could not be party; several misunderstandings concerning orders for missions and the resulting injury to one or the other of the pair; and the Herbatis mission, during which Jim had been drugged, and in that drugged state had been married to the ruler's ex-partner, the consummation of which relationship resulted in a pregnancy (Herbatian greja, one of the four genders on Herbatia, identifying most closely as humanoid males and yet with the potential to be the carriers of young).
Yes. Thinking about it now, with the presence of T'Ra assessing the whole story, Spock identified the Herbatis mission as a catalyst, or perhaps, the last straw which led to the disintegration of his relationship with Jim. After Herbatis, neither of them had been the same. In the first place was the trauma Jim had experienced during the mission, never spelled out in detail beyond Jim's "marriage" to the ruler's ex-partner. In retrospect, Spock recognised that unlike the incident with the mind-sifter, after which Jim had received mind-healing and counselling, the level of trauma Jim experienced in the Herbatis mission had been minimised and inadequately acknowledged. Some of that, of course, had been Jim's refusal to discuss it or dwell on it—against the recommendations of Doctor McCoy. It was regrettable that no one had been able to crack the tough facade (and that is what Spock had known it to be, for all Jim's blustering) and get the human to open up about what had happened.
Spock thought back to that day Jim rematerialized on the transported pad, returned to the ship after the Herbatians had finished with him.
"Captain," he had greeted, his heart pounding in his side, "it is agreeable – "
"Spock." The man's blue eyes had been icy and blank, causing a sharp stab in Spock's side. After all the frantic searching, the scanners going wild, Spock's own calls back and forth with Command, to receive such a response from his bondmate was awful.
Jim had made to brush past him, and Spock had gently grasped his arm. "Jim?"
The crystal eyes had become almost hostile. "Let go of me, Spock."
"You are on your way to sickbay?" It was, after all, standard procedure after the return of landing parties.
Jim had wrenched himself free. "Where I go is my business, Mr. Spock. Is that understood?"
Taken aback, Spock had stiffened into a formal posture. "Yes, sir." By the time he'd relaxed his stance, Jim had disappeared down the corridor. Spock had looked after him, puzzled and distressed.
Now, thinking back to that day, Spock realized what his intuition, that human faculty he chose not to acknowledge most of the time, had told him the moment Jim rematerialized: something significant had happened to Jim on the planet. To this day, Jim hadn’t shared the details with Spock, nor spoken to him about the anguish it must have caused the Vulcan – to say nothing of his own. Spock noted the waves of anger and despair this memory caused, choosing not to engage before he dismissed them, as per the Disciplines' requirements.
A contributing factor to the situation after Jim's return had been the fact that the Admirals at Starfleet Command had sided with Spock.
The call from Admiral Barnett had come through four days after the Captain's return from Herbatis. He had insisted on speaking to both the Captain and First Officer.
"Kirk, we have no choice but to put a permanent mark in your record. Your indiscretion – "
"My indiscretion, sir? I was drugged and married to the ex-partner of the ruler. I have no memory – " Jim had protested.
"Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that the heir to Herbatis is now half-human. It's one thing to engage in seduction as part of diplomacy, Captain. It's quite another when there is offspring involved. Are you aware that the whole planet has erupted into a bloody civil war?"
"I did not seduce – " Jim had tried but gave up in frustration.
"Our sensors have indicated this, yes," Spock had replied.
"The Federation Council is unhappy; they were counting on a treaty with the Herbatians to include certain mining rights. In short, Kirk, we agree with your First Officer's assessment: you should never have beamed down to the planet in the first place. Three ambassadors had been sent specifically for the purpose of negotiating with these people. There was no need for your presence on the planet. We have it as a matter of record from Mr. Spock's report that he specifically recommended against you being part of the landing party, and you chose to ignore his recommendation."
Jim had remonstrated, opening and shutting his mouth before settling on: "It wasn't like that, sir. I couldn't let Spock beam down with the dignitaries; the leader requested that I be there." He had turned to Spock and hissed: "I can't believe you'd do that to me: betray me to the brass. I count on you for support, Spock, not white-anting."
Admiral Barnett raised an eyebrow. "Are you emotionally compromised, Captain Kirk? Is this bond between you interfering in your ability to work together professionally?"
"Negative." Spock had repressed a shudder, remembering the vehemence with which he and Jim had argued with Command to retain their positions on the ship in spite of their bond. "I did not intend to undermine you, Jim. I submitted a truthful report," he had murmured to Jim.
"It had better not be. Well, gentlemen. It's an understatement to say that Starfleet's embarrassed by this incident. A mark in your record, Captain. And let this be my first and last warning: any more instances of emotional compromise for either of you as a result of your relationship, and it'll be a pension. Am I understood?"
The Admiral's pug-like face had disappeared from the screen. Jim had risen, turning to Spock, who had risen to face him. Spock had read the white-hot rage in the stormy eyes.
"How dare you."
"Jim," Spock had begun.
"How dare you? You knew my ass would be on the line. As if this mission weren't already completely fucked up." Jim had crossed his arms over his chest as if to ensure the anger wouldn't blow him apart, making the pain and rage he felt over what had happened on the planet tumble out. Spock had known in that moment the roiling emotions of his bondmate through the bond, and he wanted to help his mate.
"Jim, please. You must understand that I was obligated to provide all necessary detail in all the reports I submitted during your absence." He had drawn closer to his mate, extending his arms to wrap around the obviously hurting man. "Jim, I was… concerned…"
Jim had abruptly raised both arms, pushing Spock's away in refusal.
"Don't you fucking touch me! You're such a fucking hypocrite! I can't do this!" Jim had stormed from the room.
If ever Jim had needed his mate, it would have been then. Spock had hoped he would do so. But at no point did Jim ever allow a real, substantive discussion about his experience on the planet and the effect on both their lives.
Spock had suffered also: the bond provided a feedback loop whenever part of the bonded pair engaged in sexual behaviour which included release. Ordinarily when the pair were finding such satisfaction together, the loop enhanced pleasure and togetherness. When it occurred outside of the pair, with another, it was another story. Every time Jim had been brought to sexual release while on the planet, Spock had felt the resonances, the bond clutching painfully in his mind, as though claws were scrabbling at it. His instincts told him to run to his mate, to tear his competitor limb from limb. Yet he had been on the ship, and there had been no way to locate Jim. For a possessive Vulcan who was protective of his mate, this had been intolerable. And it meant that Spock struggled in the aftermath both with a sense of having been violated by proxy himself, as well as with a backlash of suspicion of his mate. To what extent had Jim's will been engaged? Had Jim come to enjoy the encounters? Did he initiate them? It was not logical to blame one who had been victim of their hosts' actions. And yet Spock couldn't deny his biological instinct. In order to spare the mate he loved, he spent hours in meditation taming his reactions and bringing them back under his control. It wouldn't do at all for Jim to be re-victimised by Spock's possessive-protective reactions to what had happened.
Unfortunately, being mentally connected to the Vulcan and possessing a remarkable ability to read Spock, Jim most likely picked up, consciously or unconsciously, on Spock's deep, visceral reactions to what had happened on the mission. The problem was that Jim refused to discuss either his reaction to the mission, or the effect of it on their shared relationship—which could have provided the opportunity for Spock to talk about his own issues with what happened. Whether through shame or disgust, or some other deeper, lurking truth, Jim avoided any exploration of his feelings about the mission or his relationship with Spock, passing it off dismissively.
A consequence of this was that they stopped talking meaningfully about anything other than normal business and what was necessary to the running of the ship. Jim was civil but distant. He became moody and withdrawn, short-tempered on and off the bridge. Spock tried many times in different ways, his heart logically full of concern, to talk with Jim, all to no avail. To make matters worse, Jim shuttered his end of the bond, beginning to engage in secretive behaviour. Spock didn't understand. At one point he'd even sought Dr. McCoy's advice.
"Well, that's got to be a first, Spock, you coming to me for advice. I'd have thought you'd sooner face an armful of tribbles than seek me out."
"While that may be true, Doctor, I find myself in the unenviable position of having nowhere else to turn. You are the Captain's closest friend."
"Pah. Not so much lately."
Spock raised an eyebrow, and McCoy's expressive face reflected back disgust and worry.
"Time was when he'd be down here every few days, tellin' me far too much about… erm…" the human blushed and waved a hand, "well, you know. But since Herbatia…"
"He has not spoken with you, then?"
"No, Spock, he hasn't."
"Did he report for a physical examination, as per landing party procedure?"
"No. I mean, I caught up with him the following morning; even being Captain he's not that good at evading me. And he knows the deal."
"Have you noticed his short temper? His withdrawal?"
"Look, Spock," McCoy became defensive. "We both know he was drugged and married to the leader's ex. But beyond that it's difficult to tell what those bastards did to him. Something happened. I did mandate that he see Lieutenant Banks for the compulsory psych counseling, and the Doctor reports that he attended his sessions. Beyond that…" McCoy peered at Spock closely. "He's not talking to you?" The Doctor's eyes widened. "But Spock, you must have felt – "
"I thank you not to pry into that which is private. I have dealt with any discomfort I may have personally felt in meditation."
"Spock, you can't just dismiss – "
"Thank you, Doctor. I shall contact you if I require anything further."
Apart from the ship's psychologist, Lieutenant Banks, Jim wasn't speaking to anyone. Spock carefully stewarded his frustration and sense of helplessness. Nobody could force the man to talk about his experiences. And Jim, as he had claimed to the Admiral, continued to affirm that he had no memory of what had happened. There was no other choice than to persevere and hope there might be change in the situation.
The crew was ever more aware, in those last six months, of the imminent end of the mission. What they would do after the Enterprise's return to Earth, their future assignments and hopes, was the constant talk of the crew, conversation flowing over meals and in the rec rooms. One could hardly go anywhere without being aware of the shift in the atmosphere between crewmembers, including the bridge officers. It was just as well the crew were caught up in their own responses to the upcoming end of the five-year mission; at any other time the Captain's shortness and refusal to engage would likely have been more widely felt and had a great impact on the efficient functioning of the crew.
After Herbatis their sex life hadn't been the same. For weeks Jim froze whenever Spock touched him—even in innocence. It was therefore a surprise when some months after the mission, Jim began to initiate sudden, raw, and sometimes rough sexual encounters in which he silently insisted on taking Spock, fucking him into the mattress (or floor, or bulkhead, or over the desk), leaving the bed or location of intercourse as soon as he'd climaxed and often before Spock found release. But even these encounters dwindled and became sporadic.
Spock and his bondmate had only come together again in any meaningful sense because Spock had gone into pon farr unexpectedly. Jim had fulfilled his role as bondmate exceptionally, and for the time of the mating fever and six weeks after it they were closer than they'd ever been before, the soft ease and comfort of their connected awareness a joy and delight. They had even both contributed genetic material in order to conceive a child, which would be brought to term in a uterine replicator on New Vulcan. At that point Spock had hoped the cycle was broken and that Jim was once again his in all senses.
It was not to be. As though the influence of the emotional depth of pon farr waned, Jim had gradually withdrawn from Spock emotionally and physically. Spock had mourned this loss, not knowing how he was to endure it. Jim had begun responding to Spock with anger, lashing out at him.
As if their existing problems were not enough, about three months before the end of the mission their shift patterns had become more demanding, altering in order to complete what was necessary before returning to Earth. Spock was often required in the science labs to complete long-standing experiments and to supervise the interpretation of data, while the Captain spent a great deal of time in engineering, as well as in the analysis of the last four-and-a-half years Command expected for the debrief. They still had the usual orders to follow, including diplomatic missions, patrol, inspections of colonies along the route home, and so on. Between all those competing demands, they somehow stopped sleeping in the same bed at the same time. Spock could count on one hand the number of nights they had slept beside each other concurrently. Once again, had they been able to talk seriously about these things, Spock was sure they could have been resolved.
He tried. He'd tried reaching out to Jim physically, going against his own nature and instincts as a Vulcan to restrict unnecessary touch in an attempt to connect with this being he loved, and whose mind was joined to his own. Jim would always say he was too tired, or too busy; a couple of times he had become angry and accused Spock of nagging him, snapping at Spock as though he were a tiger prodded too many times to perform. Spock had responded by asking for time to communicate: about Herbatis, about their dwindling intimacy, about their languishing bond. Jim never gave him a straight answer, delaying and obfuscating at every turn. Spock was frustrated, his patience sorely tried. But he never failed to attempt to show compassion and consideration for his bondmate above and beyond what was required as a First Officer to his Captain.
The subject of their future was yet another topic Spock had no success persuading Jim to talk about. Each time he tried, Jim shrugged and quickly changed the topic. Spock's opinion on the matter—his hope, a human might call it—was that they would take a ground assignment for a year, and then return to space in some capacity: whether on a Starbase or, ultimately, to the command of a starship. It would not be the Enterprise, which was being retired to become a training vessel attached to Starfleet Academy within sector 1. Unless, of course, they took teaching assignments at the Academy; Spock was not averse to the idea for himself, and he knew Jim's experience, his flair for instinctive decision-making and strategic thinking, would be most valuable for up-and-coming cadets. Under those circumstances, he might just retain the captaincy of his ship. But this was a complete unknown.
Starfleet HR kept enquiring with Spock as to his intentions, and with great reluctance he had continued to put them off, delaying until he could persuade Jim to have the inevitable conversation about their future. Any decision to be made, Spock assumed, would be a joint decision; he simply needed to bide his time, waiting until Jim resolved whatever was causing his current behaviour.
When the word about Jim's future came through, Spock first heard about it from Uhura, who was on duty and monitoring communications. He was off shift at the time, resting in his old quarters. After her comm. he confronted Jim, entering what had been their shared space through the bathroom.
"I believe congratulations are in order," Spock began, his face schooled, his emotions firmly in check.
"You don't exactly sound happy about it," Jim replied with a sneer in his voice, not looking up from his computer terminal. The human had always been able to read Spock, seeing through his shields even without the assistance of the bond to rely on.
"My happiness or unhappiness about your promotion to Vice Admiral is not the issue."
"Bullshit!" Jim cried, getting up now and moving right into Spock's personal space, his expression belligerent.
Spock raised an eyebrow. "I wish you had spoken to me first about this. Being informed by Lieutenant Uhura was a less than ideal way for me to discover your intentions, when you have repeatedly refused to discuss our future with me."
Jim laughed hollowly, mocking Spock. "Since when do I answer to you? Last time I checked, the braid on my sleeve said, 'Captain'." He held up a sleeve. "Yep, there it is."
"Jim," Spock said, grasping the human's arm gently, "You are my bondmate. You do not answer to me, but I would have thought it courteous at the least to consult me about decisions to be made. Your choices affect me as well as the unborn child awaiting us on New Vulcan. Nevertheless, my primary concern is whether this is in your best interests."
"My best interests? What the fuck would you know about that?" Jim pushed clear of his grasp and Spock let go. Jim stepped back, turning away, hunched in on himself.
Anger drained from Spock in that moment, perceiving just how far Jim's view of their relationship had changed. In the place of ire indescribable sadness descended in waves like a heavy fog.
"How long have I been by your side, Jim? How long have I stood beside you? Supported you, done all in my power to defend and protect—"
"Like you did when you sold me out to the brass over the Herbatis mission? Yeah, some defense, that."
"I ask your forgiveness, as I have these past months; I could not have expected the Admiralty to respond as they did. I regret the effect of their decision on you. You should know that what affects you, necessarily affects me as your bondmate. As do your actions."
Jim huffed and snorted.
"Had we discussed this before now—"
"But we didn't. And we're not going to."
"Jim, your unwillingness to communicate with me about anything other than ship's essential business is creating great difficulties. Can you not see this? I am in a singularly awkward position as a result. And Jim," Spock lowered his voice, to match the cry of his being, reaching out a hand to the human who still stood rigid in his hunched and closed position, "I yearn to be with you, to meld with you. If we could meld, if you would lower your barriers... I could show you..."
Jim shook Spock's hand from his shoulder and swept around. "But see, that's just the thing. I can't stand this," he gestured between them.
Spock was silent a moment, the tension rendering the air brittle. "I do not understand. Since the Herbatis mission—"
"The Herbatis mission has little to do with it. Well, ok. It did. But it's more than that. I can't live with you in my head any more. It doesn't matter where I go, I can never escape from you. And I can't do anything without you looking over my shoulder constantly. I'm sick of it!"
"Do you resent the bond? Is that what has been fuelling your…"
"… your recent… behaviour?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Jim, how can you not know what I'm talking about? Recently, you've had a tendency to snap at the bridge crew; the crew has been commenting on the necessity of avoiding the Captain except when absolutely necessary. Moreover, each time I have attempted to approach you to talk through our future or to raise our relationship issues with you, you block the way, or dismiss my concerns, and refuse to engage with me. Please, Jim. Tell me. Tell me what's wrong," Spock pleaded.
Spock drew closer to the man. "Jim, if you wish for me to take time away from duty in order to assist you in processing what happened, I will. You need only say the word, and I shall do anything and everything I can. You are my mate, and my first priority in all things is to serve you. I dislike the distance between us. I am concerned about the lack of intimacy, both sexual and men- "
"No!" Jim shouted abruptly. "You wouldn't understand." Jim closed up again, his arms folded across his chest, his tone of voice hard and uncompromising.
"Jim?" Spock tried again, confused by the mercurial changes in Jim's mood. "Where I am unable, help me to understand."
"Just… Go away and leave me alone."
Something which had been niggling in the back of Spock's mind came to the fore.
"Jim, is this promotion to the Vice Admiralty what you wished for?"
A long pause, in which Spock observed the play of mixed and complex emotions across Jim's face: anger, resignation, excitement, pride, fear. Spock probed the bond, but it was shielded; beyond the knowledge that Jim lived, as it had for the past several months the bond gave Spock no further enlightenment as to his mate's emotions or thoughts.
"Can any of us defy orders from the brass?" he quipped cynically.
"You have in the past. If you do not wish for promotion…"
"Spock," Jim turned, hands on his hips, "I can't."
"Can't? Or won't?" Spock countered. He suspected Jim was passing the buck, painting himself as a victim of circumstance; being promoted to Vice Admiral at such a young age was unprecedented and prestigious. Spock knew his mate's heart, and he suspected Jim secretly coveted his promotion, while knowing the cost of taking it. Why he would wish to conceal this from Spock was beyond his comprehension; Spock had no issue with Jim taking the promotion if that were truly his desire, and as long as there had been some consideration of Spock's future.
"Can't. I've defied them too many times. Not this time."
"Jim, if you do not desire this, do not do it. There are many other possibilities for us both. Taking the position as Chief of Operations is merely one such path."
Jim dropped his arms and returned to his desk.
"Possibilities for us both? That's a big assumption. Go away, Spock. We're stopping at Starbase 20 in two weeks' time to pick up some high-level personnel and goods to be delivered to Earth. I have requisition lists to go over." He focused his attention on his terminal, as if dismissing Spock.
Spock yet again felt the searing sting of rejection and hurt, as well as frustration at the blue-eyed human seated in front of him for refusing to listen to him. He decided it was time to speak his own mind.
"Jim, your actions over the past months have been deeply hurtful to me. In all this you have not once enquired as to what I wish to do when we disembark. This is to say nothing of the child that is shortly to be delivered on New Vulcan, and to which, may I remind you, we are both genetic contributors. My desire has only ever been to serve at your side. We need to consider the imminent birth of our son, and I shall have to review positions appropriate…"
"I'll just bet you've had plenty of offers." Was Jim jealous?
"All of which I have put on hold without exception, pending a discussion with you."
"Sorry to be an inconvenience." The insincerity cut deeply.
"An inconvenience? Never. A stubborn, rude, and inconsiderate mate? Yes."
Jim stood and shouted in Spock's face: "I don't fucking care. I'm sick of this bullshit! Why can't you take a hint? I don't fucking want to be near you anymore. I can't stand the thought of you touching me; it makes me sick to think of your hands on my skin, on my face. I don't know what I ever saw in you, you uptight freak! I can't believe I actually married and bonded with you. It's not even like you're a good lay; sorry, Spock, I'm quite frankly bored by sex with you and I've had enough of trying to please you. Nothing I do will ever be enough. And I just know, I know that you wanting to 'serve at my side' is more about meeting your needs than what I need. And what I need right now is space—not to see you. You see, you take and take and take, like an emotional vampire. And you've sucked me dry. You think you're so smart, so perfect. You think you've conquered logic and tied up your emotions. But you haven't, and you're not."
"You, of all people, should know better than that, Jim," Spock murmured. "You know my mind, are connected to the essence of who I am." Jim ignored him and blustered on.
"And don't I fucking know it! I don't want you! I can't stand the sight of you and can't bear your continued nagging. I'm over it. Making that child with you was a mistake. I should never have agreed to it when I don't fucking want to be with you anymore! I want the bond broken! I want a divorce!"
Something within Spock broke, disbelieving, paralysed, Jim's rejection complete. Suspicion's tendrils clutched the heart in his side, and he reeled for several frozen minutes until the pieces fell into place. "Is there another?"
"None of your business. All you need to know is that I want this fucking bond removed, broken, whatever. I want you out of my head, and out of my quarters. And the sooner the better. Are we clear?"
Spock straightened, pulling himself together (to stop falling apart). "Perfectly, Captain." Spock turned towards the door.
"I didn't dismiss you, Commander."
Spock stopped but didn't turn around. "I shall see that the bond is severed, and that the child has nothing to do with you."
"You do that. Pah. You're even too pathetic to fight for yourself. Get out. Dismissed." Jim sneered.
The next day while Jim was on shift, Spock cleared the remainder of his belongings out of Jim's quarters, the whole time his heart trembling like glass about to shatter. Returning to his own rooms with the box of his clothes and other possessions, he stood with his back to the door, shaking. How could Jim do this to him? How did it come to this? Spock searched his heart and mind then, and continued to scour every corner of his eidetic memory, seeking reasons for why Jim would turn from him, drawing a blank every time. He knew no amount of meditation would be able to stabilize him fully; what he shared with Jim was precious and unusual among his people, especially since their decimation. Certainly, there would never be another to take Jim's place in Spock's life.
Among those whom the ship conveyed from Starbase 20 was one Vice Admiral Lori Ciana, a striking woman with dark hair curling to her shoulders and sparkling green eyes set in olive skin. For the next three weeks, the Captain could hardly have flaunted his unfaithfulness more obviously—at least to Spock. He walked in on the pair engaged in intimate conversations over dinner on the observation deck. He discovered them in the arboretum, kissing while seated on the bench he had built and installed for his and Jim's use. And worst, he knew exactly when and how often they copulated, the bond screaming and twisting painfully in his mind, Jim's arousal triggering his own. Only, Spock had no way of resolving it without causing similar problems for Jim. In spite of the way his bondmate had treated him in recent days, he had no desire to do that, nor the energy: since the day he'd walked out of Jim's quarters, a profound lethargy had engulfed him, and he had no inclination to do anything beyond the bare minimum required by his duty before seeking the refuge of his quarters.
Much later, Spock learned that Jim's secretive behaviour had been because he'd begun the relationship with Admiral Ciana six months previously via subspace in the time before Spock's pon farr. In other words: Jim had been unfaithful for many months. Spock couldn't understand the depth of the betrayal he felt that, while conducting this other relationship, Jim had joined with him the fires of the Time, and given every indication of wanting to be faithful, loving, committed—enough to father a child with Spock. It simply didn't compute, especially given the cruelty of Jim's rejection of Spock and the unborn child on New Vulcan.
It was now clear what the incentive had been for him to accept promotion: an illicit affair. And who knew what promises had been made for Jim's unfaithfulness? He also learned from McCoy how the doctor had tried to reason with his best friend—to no avail. Jim's actions in those last weeks of the mission had been reprehensible enough to alienate all those who were closest to him.
He'd spent all his spare time in deep meditation, access to his quarters blocked to anyone other than the CMO, even the internal door between the bathroom and his quarters locked for the first time since the beginning of the first five year mission. In those hours, Spock had wrestled and wrestled, until he came to the decision he must make: to resign from Starfleet, to return to New Vulcan, to focus on raising his child, to break the bond, and to pursue the disciplines of kolinahr. There had been no other way Spock could see for him to find healing and a measure of peace but by the excision and termination of those human emotions which had bound him more tightly to Jim than even their psychic bond. He had blamed his humanity for giving way to the Captain and allowing him to make distance between them. He had blamed himself for Jim's unfaithfulness. The only way to absolve the blame was to remove its cause. And so, kolinahr.
As a Vulcan who was dependant on the connection with his bondmate, Spock had found the situation in those last weeks unbearable. Spock had questioned himself: had he given up too easily? Had he foolishly allowed this priceless pearl to slip through his fingers like sand? Would things have been different had he fought for Jim's attentions? Or would it have pushed his bondmate still further away? Was it something Spock had done or not done which caused this? He had, after all, tried to engage Jim, had repeatedly approached him with the openness of love and yearning desire to give of himself—only to be rejected over and over again.
Spock's health at all levels had begun to suffer. He'd felt trapped and unable to escape: from the bond, from the situation—for there was so much at stake, so much riding on the relationship whichever way one looked at it. For those final, agonising weeks, Spock had somehow endured that which was by nature to him as a Vulcan heinous and intolerable. While he could have taken action to remedy the injustice of the situation by lodging a formal complaint against Jim, Spock hadn't been able to find it in himself to do anything which might drag the human down or threaten his career.
In the course of his meditations during those last weeks of the mission he had visited dark territory: he couldn't avoid the question of whether, deep down, Jim had acted as he did in his drugged state on Herbatis because he still harboured desire for something or someone other than Spock to sate his sexual needs. Clearly, on his return to the Enterprise, that's exactly what had happened: he'd looked elsewhere and found titillation in Admiral Ciana.
Retrospectively, Spock wondered whether Jim's doubt about committing to a permanent relationship went as far back as the time of their bonding and marriage, as though being bonded to Spock were an insurance policy against his own fear of commitment. Perhaps that was unfair to Jim. Perhaps he had genuinely desired at that time the solemn vows and the mental link which bound him to Spock with more than mere words or the loyalty of duty. It was difficult, in hindsight and through the lenses of immense, visceral pain, not to see their bonding as a travesty, the later betrayal incipient in the act of binding.
It may also have had to do with other factors, such as Spock, a Vulcan, being the exotic, desirable Other to Jim. Of course, Spock had reflected since, the problem with desiring the Other is that once that desire has been fulfilled and the mystery of the Other revealed, the Other loses its attraction.
Tied up in the desire for an exotic Other, Spock had wondered about Jim's libido. He should have known. Spock had recalled with a shudder the delight Jim had taken in deflowering him, the first time they engaged in sexual intercourse. Another notch on his bedpost? he had wondered cynically in those long days on the return to Earth and in the time since, remembering the sexual history of his bondmate it had been convenient to forget. It was likely that one of Jim's chief motivations for bonding with him had been for the sake of his own sexual satiation. Jim was a highly sexed individual. Until their bonding, Spock, like a traditional Vulcan, had refrained from sexual intimacy with another, including the deep meld in which couples could engage either while enjoying physical intimacy, or at other times, and which was more intimate than sexual intercourse on its own. Jim had been his first, and would be his only partner. It was immensely painful and embarrassing to think that for seven years all he had been to James Kirk was a convenient body in and on which to slake his sexual need.
By contrast, there was nothing Spock would not have done for this man. Jim had been his everything. He had given to Jim all that he was and had, holding nothing back. The worst part was that, thanks to the enduring bond, in spite of the sensation of nausea Spock had experienced every time he had thought about the human after their separation, along with that nausea came the impulse to continue to deny him nothing, even when the man was light years distant.
In those first two years of Spock's residence on New Vulcan, had Jim appeared he would have had to fight to prevent himself leaping up and resuming his place at the man's side. It was for this reason that he was undertaking kolinahr: to find freedom and peace from the agony of the broken relationship with the one who was still his bondmate and his t'hy'la, and yet who had so betrayed both connections.
Bondmate. And t'hy'la. The t'hy'la connection between them (that relic of the days before the Awakening) would always remain even after kolinahr, an ontological reality. One could be shield-brother and fellow-warrior without the emotional ties and resonances, a matching of spirit and essence. The marriage bond, as a matter of will and biology, was a different matter, and could, must, be broken.
The intense emotions of the memory faded in T'Ra's grasp, and the strand dissolved. She put her hand to the next one.
Spock watched as the medical staff prepared the birthing area, moving the uterine replicator on an antigrav unit until it was locked in place. He felt something deep in his gut—the unfamiliar crawling sensation which signaled nervous tension mingled with excitement. Like never before, Spock was now face to face with the reality that since their last visit to New Vulcan (during the halcyon days post pon farr) when Spock and his bondmate had donated genetic material, this thing, this tiny life, had been gestating in the uterine replicator.
His mouth drew tight with resolve: now, three weeks after his return to New Vulcan, the child was to be delivered. A child they had both wanted at the time, but which now Jim had rejected. It was just as well that the Vulcan High Council, having heard Spock's petition, had banned Kirk from the planet. As the child was to be mostly Vulcan (thanks to the necessity of genetic engineering as well as the need to repopulate the species), he was deemed a member of that endangered species, and therefore not to be removed from its natural environment.
Jim may not want the small life the replicator contained, but Spock had been eagerly anticipating this, the one bright hope in the midst of his recent anguish. He resolved not to allow those powerful negative emotions to seep through in his contact with this innocent.
The doctors aligned the transportation device.
"Osu Spock, we are prepared for transfer at your indication."
Spock froze a moment before nodding slowly, and the head technician turned his attention to the controls. "It is a delicate procedure," he said shifting the dials, "but problems only arise in 2% of cases." He pulled the dials back, and with a shimmer the small form disappeared from the liquid in the replicator, reappearing on the table beside Spock.
The baby was utterly still. Spock's heart seemed to freeze in his side.
"5cc cordrazine," the doctor ordered, and a nurse calmly handed a hypospray to him.
Another nurse began to wipe the slime and gunk off the infant, washing him gently and efficiently. There was a single loud wail as the newborn discovered his lungs and the brutal nature of the world, and then sounds of discontent. The child was swaddled in diaper and cloth.
"A son, Osu Spock," the doctor announced as he handed the bundle to the waiting Vulcan.
Spock felt awkward in that moment, unused to the shape in his arms, worried that the fragile little one might break if he were held incorrectly or dropped. Instinctively he began to rock from side to side, cuddling the baby to himself. He looked down in wonder at the honey-blonde hair, unfurling the tiny pointed ears with gentle fingertips. The baby had his human father's cerulean eyes, which looked up at Spock with curiosity, although his eyebrows and the green tinge of his skin indicated his majority heritage. So softly, Spock touched his fingers to the child's face, cautiously touching the unformed consciousness and reassuring the little one of love and safety, and establishing the parental bond.
"His name is Sapient," Spock murmured.
How could Jim not want this? Whatever Spock had ended up being to Jim, how could he not want to know this spark of life, this evidence of procreative genius?
Spock gazed on his son, and loved him, pride and amazement filling his katra.
Sapient had been raised in the time that Spock was training for kolinahr, so he was aware of what his father was doing. Spock had held off on the final stage of disconnection from emotions for the sake of Sapient, who in his early years required some emotional connection and stability.
Spock was determined not to make the same mistakes his father had in raising him, and so raised Sapient to understand and experience emotions, as well as the techniques necessary to control them (greatly assisted by the kolinahr disciplines he himself was learning)—but without the negative connotations and associations. Sapient knew that emotion on the whole was something to be accepted, not denigrated; controlled, not expunged, except in the case of kolinahr.
From the beginning Spock explained Sapient's origin: that his other parent was James Kirk, that he and Spock had been bonded at the time of Sapient's conception, and that he had been wanted by both parents. Of course, as he grew, Sapient asked questions as to why his other father had chosen not to be a part of his life, and why he was not permitted to see him. Spock taught him that disconnection from Jim was what Jim himself had desired, and that this was no reflection on Sapient, but rather on Jim's immaturity. Spock helped his son to understand, and as far as possible not to judge his other parent.
In any case, in the place of the second parent, Sapient had Spock's elder self, who was going about on the colony by the name of Selek. Selek's assistance was invaluable; the old Vulcan was only too happy to assist Spock with Sapient, and Spock was content to entrust his child to him. Since his return to New Vulcan, Selek had opened his home to Spock and his new infant. When Sapient was four, he asked for Selek to adopt him, and the child was now, legally, Spock's and Selek's, a fact which amused as well as deeply affected the Elder.
Selek was opposed to Spock's attempt to neutralize his emotions by means of kolinahr. He was also most vehement in his opposition to Spock taking whatever measures were necessary to break and remove the bond he shared with Jim. Selek cited his own failure to achieve kolinahr, his many years of reflection on the benefits of emotion, and particularly his opinion that Spock was better off finding a balance between his humanity and Vulcanhood, and ceasing to join battle between them. He also opined, his far sight and long years looking into the future, that one day James Kirk would return repentantly to Spock, and would wish for what they had shared. Spock invariably responded that they were different individuals with different life experiences, and that it was unlikely, from what Selek reported of his Jim, that Selek's Jim would ever had committed against Selek the sins Spock's Jim had committed against him. Spock found it improbable that his Jim would ever sacrifice his ship and his offspring for his sake—had he not proved the opposite: just how little value he placed on his bondmate and child?
Selek was also generous enough (though he attributed it to logic) to assist Spock through the next occurrence of the pon farr. By that stage, Spock was sufficiently advanced in the mind disciplines that physical release was necessary only once, and only at his own hand. Selek melded with him, assisting in the regulation of his physiology, and using his own discipline honed over many long years to put dampeners around the bond. Spock had no knowledge of whether Jim experienced at that time the inevitable tugging along the bond. If he did, it would not have been for lack of effort on his and Selek's part.
Kolinahr would mean the attenuation of all bonds. The familial bond Spock shared with Sapient would remain. But there would no longer be emotion attached to it; the connection would be one that was purely logical: that of a provider for a dependent. Spock was therefore grateful to Selek, that he would be able to provide a better example of the maintenance of balance than Spock was able.
Spock had spoken to Sapient yesterday, preparing him for what to expect after today's procedure and indeed, after Spock had achieved kolinahr. "Never forget that your father, that I, love you. Even when I no longer feel, you will always be a part of me, Sapient," he had said, the child looking at him solemnly, but with his characteristically clear sight.
"I shall remember, Father. What you must do is necessary."
Pride was an illogical emotion, and one Spock thought he had long ago suppressed. For a moment he allowed himself to feel it before dismissing it with a note to remember that he had been proud of his son.
T'Ra struggled with Spock's memories of Sapient.
"You must release the root of emotion, Spock," she admonished.
Turning his attention to the task at hand, Spock bared the emotions attached to his memories of his son, related as they were to his relationship with Jim and notions of both self-continuance as well as the concrete evidence of shared devotion. T'Ra laid a mental hand on these deeply rooted instinctive emotions, massaging until they too disintegrated and fell like drops of water to the ground, soon to melt away.
Then followed a series of strands of memory woven into and around the centre of the bond: memories of Spock's friends and colleagues aboard the Enterprise; Spock's ambitions, and the secret things he coveted; his ever-complex relationship with his father; the too-early-terminated connection with his mother… That took some effort to release, the pain of losing that brave human woman as fresh as it had been seventeen years earlier. Spock had spent six years processing and dismissing these emotions, and detachment was a state with which he was becoming increasingly familiar. But at last, these emotions too floated away gently, a final farewell and release.
This left one last—the thickest—strand in the bond exposed with disconnected threads wavering around it, as when a cable is partially severed.
T'Ra reached forth and with a finger scratched the surface. Spock barely restrained himself from crying out both mentally and physically at the agony this caused. If this were the pain involved in the final severance, was it worth it?
Spokh, T'Ra warned, you must release this last to me. This is by your will.
Spock paused a moment and then nodded. Proceed, T'Ra. I am prepared. The pain is nothing; it does not exist. He closed his eyes, unable to witness the tearing of what had been his greatest treasure.
The shining face of his ashayam, walking towards him on the sands of this new world…
The weaving of the fabric of their minds and lives together, like a piece of cloth being formed from what had been each of them, or like raw filaments of wool or hemp being twisted into each other to become strong cord…
The way the tender arcs of light came together, dancing, kissing, each brush signifying unending commitment and regard.
The wonder and mystery of revealing the body of his mate centimeter by centimeter…
That first ecstatic joining, the celebration of love's union in the sealing of bodies, minds, and spirits…
The satiation of desires he'd hidden from himself: the yearning for an Other, the need for someone to love and reflect love back to oneself…
An undoing! Reversals. Union torn and disrupted, ruthlessly severed, hacked at until finally, finally…
Anguish—acute, a searing fire biting with the force of ice into the centre of who Spock was, a knife dragging through flesh that wasn't flesh, and bone that wasn't bone, and dividing katra from soul, and spirit from spirit, and heart from heart. No escape from the torment of the severing act.
His whole being shook like a young tree before the axe of the tree-feller.
He thought he might be sweating blood, and wondered when this crucifixion would be finally, finally done as the priestess's marauding hands wrenched connections from his essence, and pain arced as though nails were being driven through his hands and feet.
It seemed to last forever, an eternal affliction, a blotting of all awareness in a miasma of blinding pain.
Abruptly over. He fell, and kept falling forever in the void, spinning and turning like a leaf or a feather helpless to right itself.
Alone! Ah!!! Incomplete! Split from the other half of his being. Loss! Oh! Loss so great… How was it to be borne? After years of being together, now this isolation, this silence, this deadness in his mind, in his most secret self…
Darkness, madness laughing on the edge of awareness, mocking and teasing: a pyrrhic victory, to be lost as he sank deeper and deeper into the well…
Spock came to consciousness slowly. It was chill, cold seeping through his ragged once-white robe as he lay on his back. Overhead the stars wheeled in their courses. He had a curious sense of being encased in silence, of having entered a timeless time and existing in a momentless moment.
I have cast out my emotions on the sands of this world, as did my ancestors on the stones of Gol. I am cleansed.
He sat up slowly to find T'Ra seated a short distance away, her eyes closed and her breathing deep and even in the patterns of meditation. She must have registered his movement; her eyes began to flicker beneath her lids as she rose towards full consciousness once more, and then opened completely.
"Spokh," she said.
"You have been unconscious for six point seven five hours. It was necessary to excise the root of the marital bond; severing it pushed you to the edge of insanity. You will discover your parental and filial bonds remain."
Spock turned his attention inward, gently exploring the still-raw area which had been eviscerated. It was… odd, but also as it should be: smooth and featureless, like new skin stretched over a healing burn, or like flesh closed over an area where a limb used to be.
"Kaiidth," he responded, bowing his head.
"It shall take many weeks yet. I have examined your mind while you slept, and determined that you are not far from the final test. Cast out the remnants of emotion, and you shall be at last free, as you have sought."
"I acknowledge, T'Ra. May it be as you have said." He gave the customary sign of respect from student to master, and the priestess left him.
Spock took long minutes to gather sufficient energy to rise and depart. He gazed out from the high place across the nearby gorge, noting the distant echoing cries of a night-bird seeking a mate, and the cold, cold serenade of the stars of New Vulcan's night high overhead. He noted already the multitude of changes within himself in the severing of the bond: peace, relief, silence—leftovers and remnants from the deep meld the priestess had carried out to achieve the severance. All these he embraced, knowing that it would yet take six weeks to make this state permanent: the attainment of logic. But he was almost there, could almost see the metaphysical peak of lost Seleya with his conscious mind. In spite of Selek's predictions, Spock was determined to achieve that lofty state, that eyrie from which he could survey his life and surroundings and perfectly establish them in their context without emotional resonance.
He would stand on the peak of mount Seleya, in the footsteps of Surak and others since. And know himself, in that moment, finally vindicated.