The van-kal would make him rushansu, take him from his battered, damaged Human shell and return him as a Vulcan, place his tam'a within a new body, give him a katra to pass on after his death. It would not replace the family he lost, the friends, the home destroyed, could never remove the memories of death and destruction -- but it would remake him, give him a home in this clan, make him brother to the quiet, unassuming soul that saved him from the Klingons and convinced him that his existence should not be lightly thrown away.
"You could die," Spock told Jim as he dressed in the ceremonial robe, struggling to wrap the knee-length fabric over his broken body, right arm withered and barely moving.
"Little would be lost."
Music danced around him, winding its way through the leaping flames. Within the circle, there was nothing but heat, sound, the flash of silver metal.
Spock approached, taking the cloth and pulling it over Jim's shoulder, fastening it with the triple-bar brooch that symbolized the House and clan of Surak.
"I had thought you beyond such dark thoughts, Sa-kai t'zaled" The Vulcan looked slightly down, meeting the blue eyes that reached nearly as high as his own. They clouded.
Something cool spread along his wrists, up over his arm, stopping at one elbow, continuing to the numb shoulder on the other side. He felt a similar chill on his legs, stopping just above the knee. The flames warmed him again, but no longer did he burn.
"I have dark days, Brother-of-my-heart." Jim waved his good hand at his mangled arm, the burn scars marring the tanned skin of his legs.
"Sa-kai t'zaled now; Sa-kai svi'yeht'es, Sa-kai fayei'khaf once this is done." Spock curled two fingers gently against the warmer cheekbone of his companion, leaning just slightly so their foreheads touched, letting all the respect and affection he held for the other flow through the contact.
" If this is done." Anxiety swirled around Spock's fingers, prickled the skin of his face.
The flash became a flicker, closer, larger, resolving into a blade only as long as a finger, but edged so fine only the dancing flames revealed it. Long, cold fingers stretched over his face, pressing into his cheek, his chin, a voice whispering peace, a mind skating along his own.
"Kir-alep has never rejected one who shares a deep bond with a clan-member, one who is already taken into the House. My father claims you as sa-fu, I claim you as sa-kai."
Pain spiked where the chill had covered him; sharp, mobile, but muted, warmed by the fires. He turned his head, watching the pale, slender hand that carved deep wounds into his skin, intricate patterns of ancient words engraved deeply, careful to split skin, draw blood, cut vein, without damaging the muscle and tendons running alongside.
"You know the heart of Mother, have earned the respect and trust of my father; you feel now the depth of my own regard for you. I myself will perform the van-kal-khaf. My hand will drain the red from your veins and renew your life with the green that flows in mine."
Black eyes sparked with orange flame, the small blade piercing every scar from the top of his face to the bottom of his foot, tracing a shape in each, the same curved design over and again.
Spock drew his head back, pressing his resolve into his heart-brother's skin, dragging his fingers down Jim's pitted cheek, over the jagged flaws in his collarbone, along the destroyed right limb, stretching his hand along the other's and pulling it up in a modified el'ru'esta, fingers curling around the edge of Jim's palm to hold his nerveless hand up in the familial embrace.
Spots came and went in his vision, growing bigger and bolder as his heart pulsed sluggishly in his chest, each beat painful, pressured, coming with more space between it and the next than it and the one before.
" If your tam'a is sent on, mine will follow as my blood is inked into your skin."
A green-tinged arm raised before his blotched gaze, near-invisible knife held to it, the circles and bars pressed into each scar now mimicked on the carver's skin. His damaged arm was raised, held by another, soaked in black-red and swirled with ancient designs. The bleeding green wrist crossed with his own, palm touching palm, and their bloods met, blended, burned as one.
"Kir-alep only denies the unworthy. For all you have done since you came to us, shattered and broken though you have been, you are worthy. The child whose life you saved, the sacrifices you make, the selfishness you show by contributing to our clan in every way your body will allow -- if you are not worthy, none are, not even those given our blood in birth."
The music roared.
Perhaps it was the fire.
Perhaps it was the pain.
He wailed in agony, feeling himself torn, sheared away from himself, removed.
Detachment. Emptiness. Sensing nothing, being nothing.
Something was connecting to him, or him to something. Warm, living hands with long fingers, many of them, smoothing something over him, stinging in places that felt open and raw. Cool liquid, sweet but savory, like tea steeped in a strange wine. The touch of a hand wrapped firmly around his, wrist to wrist, warm, love and loyalty and exhaustion racing between them.
Slow, hot, uneven. Something was falling on him, plinking near the join of himself to the other. The weariness was becoming pain, the pain grief.
Time was passing. What was time?
He is not returning. There is no life.
What is life?
No....no. I do not accept that.
The other did not let go.
More of 'time' passed.
I feel as though I have murdered him.
This was his choice. Kir-alep's choice. You did not take his life from him. Your hand was merely a tool.
Less time. More dripping. Tears? Perhaps, yes.
If there is no katra to give him, no body for his tam'a, take mine. I do not understand why I was not taken with him.
It is warm, here. Not burning, no flames. Warm, though. Wrist against wrist. Hand pressed into hand. Thought gently seeking anguished thought.
Do you see it?
Flurry of voices, of sounds, movement, of arms pulling him up into a strong embrace, tears falling on his neck, the race of joy springing between his mind and Spock's, for it was Spock holding him, exultation in every breath.
Jim hugged him back, dropping his head onto the Vulcan's shoulder -- and realized.
He had both arms wrapped around the other.
The skin on his legs no longer felt crinkled, itchy, stretched too tight.
His hearing was sharper, his senses heightened, his body full of more energy than he'd felt in months, years.
And Spock was warm.
He drew back, looking at himself. His green-tinged hands, both long-fingered and moving freely with his will. His legs, smooth and unblemished. His arm, strong-sinewed and without scar of any kind.
His skin covered in black, swirling tattoos of ancient words, sacred designs, and a circular etching that perfectly matched the one on Spock's wrist.
"Sa-kai t'zaled," he breathed. "I--"
"No." Spock halted him, hand raised eyes bright, Sarek and T'amanda watching them with pride. "Sa-kai fayei'kaf. Sa-kai svi'yet'es." He pulled Jim off the ceremonial slab, drew him out of the dormant fire-ring, turned him to face the rest of the clan, hands firmly settled on the shoulders of the other Vulcan.