When he stepped off the Buk, the Council Elders were waiting for him. T'Pring stood among them, Stonn at her side. Her eyes flashed with a thousand emotions.
Before a word could be said, Spock took off the shirt of his Ang'jmizn uniform, knelt, and laid it before their feet, his head bowed.
"I submit myself to thy justice."
He felt T'Pau's presence loom over him.
"Raise thy eyes and look thou upon me."
He did so, angling his head precisely so that he might meet T'Pau's eyes.
He did not expect the blow, her hand striking his face, the rings on her fingers slitting his cheek. He kept his military bearing and did not move from his position.
"Sviksu!" she spat. "Thou art not worthy to bear the name Vulcan. There is no justice for traitors, only taflaya and samek-yontaya!"
Spock was silent.
"Thou hast nothing to say in defense of thy actions."
"I am as thou seest."
"Kroykah! Klashausu—take this e'shua to the Burning Place. Ket'lio!"
The guards grabbed his upper arms and forced him up. They stripped the purple band from his waist and used it to tie his hands behind his back, desecrating the symbol of his status and destroying what was left of his power. Spock did not resist, but he did not submit. He simply stood tall, held his head high, and met T'Pring's gaze.
A thousand emotions were crashing under her silver facade.
The guards shoved him to make him stumble—it was a show of humiliation. He straightened himself and walked forward.
He was going to die for this. They would rape his mind. He would be able to hide nothing from them. This was the Way. This was the punishment for traitors, and he would abide it with whatever dignity he had left. He would die, his katra denied entry into the Ark, his name smeared in the pages of history, legacy disgraced, honor broken. Forever known was sviksu, the traitor.
But he would die with a light in his eyes.
Because he found, in a flash of epiphany as brilliant as the light of Jim's smile, that he did not regret it.
He had betrayed his people, his planet, his sense of duty, and everything he held dear. He had betrayed himself, the core beliefs on which his life had been founded and the tenets on which he had built the entirety of his existence.
But he had not betrayed everything of himself. For he had loved Jim, and in choosing that love, he had found something selfish, a secret that had changed his entire world.
Jim betrayed him. Bound to his own duties and sense of obligation, he used Spock for his cause and came out the winner. Came out free.
As he was always meant to be, traversing the galaxy and touching the stars.
And that fact, more than anything, was what kept Spock when the Interrogators violated his mind over and over and over in their exacting search for vengeance.
Stonn could provide no comfort.
Stonn was not Spock. He did not have the same presence as Spock, that easy elegance, the force of his intelligence, his carriage, the brilliance of his eyes. The Council and priests elected Stonn as the new Ang'jmizn, but he could never be Spock.
A thousand emotions burned inside T'Pring.
She had done it.
She had gone before the High Council and told them everything she knew. Spock was ever discreet. He gave nothing away. It was James who could not hide his love. It was James that she had seen, lurking near computer terminals, looking like someone who had been assigned a mission. James was altogether too easy to read and when she heard that Vulcan's security codes had been compromised and two Terran vessels were making their escape, she knew what had transpired.
James, as clever and sly as he was, could never obtain the security codes. Even T'Pring did not have access to those. Spock had been given the great honor and responsibility of being one of the bearers of the keys to Vulcan after his successful campaign against Andoria. Only five others knew the codes, five whom Jim had never met and could never have the opportunity to meet.
Spock had given Jim the keys to Vulcan.
When she realized that, she had gone numb with rage, jealousy, desperation.
Why? That was the only question that burned in her mind.
What did that human have that she did not? She was T'Pring, daughter of Serwal, one of the few houses descended directly from the great warrior general Sulak. She would take her place on the Council, her mother came from a line of powerful priestesses. She and Spock were destined to bond. With him as Ang'jmizn of all of Vulcan's forces and her as the High Councilor, they would rule the galaxy. They would bring peace and order to the chaos. It had been their childhood dream, growing together. The priests had seen their grand fate written in the stars themselves.
She loved him. Loved him with a burning passion. He commanded her attention and her world from the day they first met. T'Pring remembered nights when she and Spock would sneak out of the city walls and roam the desert hand in hand, looking up at the stars and mapping out which systems they would conquer. He had looked at her with his dark eyes and promised her that he would be by her side. Nothing could change between them.
How had everything changed? How had he grown so distant?
Was it the wars? Every campaign he came back from, Spock became more and more withdrawn. He spoke only what was necessary, he was startlingly efficient. The passion was still there—she felt it smoldering when they touched.
And how had she changed? When had she become so calculating?
The politics. Training under T'Pau and navigating the labyrinth of Vulcan politics, she learned to look sideways, speak in riddles, hide her intent. They both of them were trained to the utmost, born to become the best. In the process, they had grown apart. Dreams grew cold.
And then this human came. This rebellious, disorderly, unrestrained human who spoke too loudly, smiled too widely, offended everyone he came into contact with. This human she thought she had broken, this human that Spock was compelled to buy and protect. When Spock first gave T'Pring this human as a wedding gift, she thought it was a joke. And perhaps it had been. Yet she became altogether too focused on disciplining the human, making him bear the marks of her power. And then he became the focal point of her jealousy. Still he had the audacity to look at Spock. Still he found ways to defy her and keep his name.
The human was impossible.
The human dreamed.
T'Pring knew the contents of his dreams. No one could look at him and not know. He dreamed of freedom.
Stupid slave! What did he have that she did not? Wasn't she free? Wasn't she in command of whole star systems? Didn't she have the power to get rid of entire species? What did Spock see in him that she lacked? Didn't they dream together? Didn't they promise to rule the universe together? Weren't they free together?
She burned with jealousy. She burned with the desire to join Spock in his campaigns, to be by his side always, to touch his mind and know him in a way that no one else could. That human took it away from her! He fell in love, and Spock fell in love with him. Spock gave him the keys to Vulcan! Spock, who placed duty above all things! Spock, who fought in fourteen campaigns and returned victorious! Spock, who belonged to her, gave a human the keys to Vulcan!
They were meant for each other! It was impossible that Spock love any other.
But he did. And when she discovered that James loved Spock, that this human was her rival, jealousy, dark and desperate, raged inside her.
It consumed her, to the point where she hated Spock for his cool treatment of her while she knew, she knew he was burning for Jim.
She didn't know why she told the High Council about Spock's betrayal. It was illogical.
And it was illogical to hope.
Yet she still hoped. For now, with James out of the way, likely dead in space...
They could start over. She could redeem him. She had the power, she had the will to do it. The Council and the priests would have to be maneuvered, but T'Pring knew their every weakness, their dark secrets. This incident could be forgotten. With the human gone, she could convince Spock to renounce James, declare his attachment to be an aberration in judgment. They could rule the galaxy once more. She would restore his power, give him back his fleets of ships, and their fate would be aligned once more.
He would remember the desert nights outside of the city, hand in hand, dark eyes looking at her as they plotted their dreams together.
She would appeal to him. He would see reason.
T'Pring gathered her robe.
"Escort me to the Burning Place."
The guard opened his mouth to say something, but she made a sharp motion.
"Do not question my orders. I have commanded it."
He bowed. Her entourage assembled within minutes.
Spock would see reason. She would redeem him.
And he would love her, because she was the only one who could.
They brought him to her dressed in the sackcloth of slaves. They chained him, lest he attack. His face bore the marks of T'Pau's rings, his legs and arms were covered with bruises and cuts.
Yet he knelt before her, posture perfect.
"My Lady," he said, voice even. "To what do I owe this honor?"
"Spock, don't stand on ceremony with me. Rise. Look at me."
Despite the wounds, he rose fluidly.
"I have arranged for a trial."
He raised an eyebrow but was otherwise silent.
"The priests will judge your case."
"There is nothing to be judged. It is already known that I gave Jim the keys to Vulcan, an offense punishable by death without trial."
"Do not tell me of Vulcan law, Spock," she hissed. "I know it well. I have written it!"
"Then what purpose can a trial serve?"
"Can't you see?" T'Pring's words were silver. "You can save yourself. Denounce this association you had with the slave—the priests are willing to pardon you. Tell them it was a mistake, vow never to make such an error again. You are our best commander, Spock. Vulcan is in need of thee."
Spock was silent.
"I am in need of thee," she added, softly.
T'Pring went to where Spock stood and reached for his hand. He recoiled, the shackles clattering.
"Spock, see reason—"
"I cannot. I will not," his tone brooked no argument.
"You will die! Is that what you desire, a dishonorable death? They will execute you without mercy!"
"I will not denounce him."
A thousand emotions.
"Why? What did he give you that I could not?"
Spock's face softened, but he said nothing.
"I love you! I loved you from the beginning. What could he do that I cannot?"
Dark eyes and silence.
"Did he know of our dreams? Did he know we are fated? Did you tell him that?"
"I did not."
"You wanted to share the universe with me once. You wanted to bond with me once."
"That was the past."
"What changed?! What did he have that I do not?!"
T'Pring slapped him.
"I love you. Why is that not enough? You loved me once. You told me things you never told anyone else. What did that human have that I could not give to you?"
A thousand emotions, a thousand hurts.
"Where is he now? Where is your lover now? You gave him the keys to Vulcan he betrayed you! Likely he's dead in space, or rutting with another Terran! Where is he now? What is so valuable that you will not leave him, that you prefer death and dishonor over the memory of that slave?!"
In front of Spock, T'Pring could never keep her silver facade.
"Why can you not love me? Is he worth so much to you that you will leave me? Are the promises we made so valueless that you cannot live for me?"
Her hands began to shake. She tried to exert control, but they shook and shook and shook.
Spock put his arms around T'Pring, the shackles dangling. She leaned into him, clung to him.
"You used to call me t'hy'la."
He tightened his arms around her.
Those words. How was it that Spock could say so little, yet say everything at the same time?
A thousand emotions, dreams, fears, hopes. A thousand memories pressing.
He loved her once. He could love her again. With time, they would build their bond again. Underneath T'Pring's silver jealousy was hope. With time, he would forget.
"Why can't we be t'hy'la once more?" she whispered into him.
Spock held her in place, but said nothing.
"Go in front of the priests and ask forgiveness. Forget the human. We will start over. We can continue the empire and build our dreams."
"I cannot. I will not ask forgiveness for what I have done."
"It is not logical, but it is not something that logic may explain. T'Pring, I cannot."
He let go.
Dark eyes that held secrets, and suddenly looking at the Vulcan standing before her, T'Pring felt she did not know him at all. That he was a stranger. Something had changed inside him and she could not reach him. He had given the keys to the slave, James Kirk, and those keys were forever lost to her.
"I am offering you life. I am offering you redemption. Honor. Mercy."
"T'Pring, I betrayed my planet, my people, my honor, for Jim, and you say you offer me life? Do you believe the svik will ever be forgotten?"
"It will be forgotten! You will win more glory, we will clear your name. I will make sure it is never mentioned."
"You deceive yourself. I will not live a life of shame, nor will I live a life indebted to you."
"Have you no fear of what they will do to you?"
"I do not fear death, T'Pring."
No, he had never feared death. He had always stood tall.
"I fear your mercy."
Ten thousand emotions.
They came and stood at attention despite the fact that he was stripped of all power. His voice still commanded their allegiance.
"Escort my Lady back to the palace. We are finished here."
And she could say nothing. She could do nothing. Her words, the memories, amounted to nothing.
"My Lady T'Pring," he held out the ta'al. "Sochya eh dif, t'hy'la."
T'Pring stands outside the temple walls.
"S'chn T'gai Spock! Thou hast betrayed of Vulcan the secrets to aid the enemy. Defend thyself!"
A thousand emotions tearing inside her, pounding against her silver facade.
"He is silent. Sviksu!"
"S'chn T'gai Spock! Thou hast deserted thy duty in the very moment of combat. Defend thyself!"
Frozen in place by duty, trapped outside the temple, captive to her destiny. If she were Kirk, if she were the impetuous slave—he would storm the walls.
"He is silent. Sviksu!"
Kirk would fling himself against the stone, no matter the irrationality or uselessness of the gesture. Where is your lover now, Spock?
"S'chn T'gai Spock! Thou hast broken faith as a traitor to Vulcan, to Council, to honor. Defend thyself!"
She is not Kirk. She is T'Pring. She cannot save Spock though she loves him, but she may still give him mercy.
"He is silent. Sviksu!"
T'Pring enters the temple, tall and silver, eyes dark with her own secrets. Stonn rises from his place to follow behind her. Perhaps there are other destinies written in the stars. But Stonn is not Spock and never will be Spock.
"S'chn T'gai Spock! We have thy fate decided! Of a traitor the fate shall be thine! Beneath the sands of the planet thou hast derided, thou a sepulcher living shall find!"
The priests turn to her.
T'Pring stands silver. Spock looks at her, silent.
It was not written. This fate could never be written.
The eyes of the priests are on her and T'Pring stands, head held high, eyes flashing with a thousand emotions.
Kirk—the human—though a slave and utterly powerless, always stood gold.
"Councilor, thou hast no place in these proceedings. Depart. His fate has been decided."
T'Pring stands silver. Spock stands silent.
Where is your lover now, t'hy'la?
"Kroykah! I have arranged this trial, I have a right to its proceedings. The Vulcan was to be my bondmate, and I claim those right accordingly. Hear my claim."
"Speak, thy claim has standing."
"Let not his sepulcher lie beneath the sands of Vulcan. Let not the taint of svik seep into our soils. Let it be in that blackness of space, the cold vacuum from which there is no escape. Let him die of a true samek-yontaya."
She is not Kirk, just as Stonn is not Spock. But let him die free, in his beloved galaxy, among the stars he gazed upon with her and with Kirk. Let that small mercy be afforded him, instead of buried alive under the red sand. It is her last wish for him.
"It is done. He dies a traitor's death!"
Spock is looking at her, silent He nods, ever so slightly.
Where is your lover now, Spock? What did he have that I could not give you? What force burned inside him that you lost yourself in his light, when you should have been mine?
Silver and silence, gold and unspoken goodbyes.
And when they lead him away, she whispers
"S'chn T'gai Spock. T'hy'la. Thou hast betrayed thy country, thy love, and thyself, for the memory of a human. Defend thyself."
A thousand emotions.
Stonn offers her his arm. Before she takes it and leaves the inner sanctum of the temple, she holds an image in her mind of her and Spock, outside the city walls, pointing at the stars above.
"Dif-tor heh smusma, t'hy'la."
"He made his bed. Let him lie in it."
It is dark. Absolutely no light. And it is cold.
Spock calculates that it will be only a few hours before he is completely frozen in this tomb. It is essentially a large box. The temperature controls self destructed a few minutes ago. Air supply is still running. The object is for him to freeze to death, not suffocate. It is samek-yontaya. The cold burn.
He cannot stand up, but he is able to sit comfortably. There is enough space to accommodate four more seated Vulcans.
In his mind, Jim is free, his eyes so blue, his laugh resonant.
"Shit, it's fucking cold in here."
Spock freezes. He is hallucinating. The cold is affecting his ability to distinguish between reality and illusion. The probability that Jim in the sepulcher with him is—it is unthinkable. Jim must be free, he must be away from the cold of death.
Still, he can't help but call
"Yeah, it's me. Vulcans really know how to build a death box."
"I think this is the first time I've heard you incoherent."
"You are an apparition."
"Nope." Jim takes Spock's cold hands in his. "I'm real."
He is real.
He is real. Spock can feel his telepathy reach out to a presence so familiar, a mind that could never be replicated or reconstructed by his own imagination.
His fingers are stiff and slowly becoming numb, but against Jim's hands, they tingle from the thrill of contact.
"Then how are you here? Why are you here?" he demands.
For Jim must be free. He must.
"The how's kind of complicated. The why—I thought that'd be obvious. Well, I hoped."
Panic. Fear. He can't see Spock's face, can't even see the those dark eyes in this all encompassing blackness. Jim grips Spock's hand, wanting so much to fold himself into Spock but afraid. He betrayed this Vulcan. Spock gave him the codes and he turned them over to Nyota, his mother's screams, father's voice ringing in his ears.
"Spock? I swear, I—"
"I understand, Jim."
It can't be that easy. Nothing ever comes that easy for Jim.
If he were Spock, if their positions were reversed, he's not sure he would be so forgiving.
"Yes," Spock answers. "You are not me, Jim. I made my choices. I abide by them, and I cannot regret them."
"If I did not denounce you before all the priests, the High Council arrayed in all their splendor, would I turn you away now?"
Spock feels Jim move closer to him.
A pause. It's as though Jim is gathering courage to say something.
"Do you still love me?"
There's only one answer for that. Spock feels his way to Jim's face, finds his lover's lips and kisses them. He hears Jim sigh, a sound of relief and deep contentment.
Unspoken between them are words. Declarations.
I chose death. I chose the death of sviksu, rather than the abject repentance of our love. I chose you.
I choose death. I choose to die with you. I choose you over freedom. Because without you, can I really be free?
They feel their way around each other. Jim nestles into Spock's body.
"It'd be a little awkward if you didn't. Love me, I mean. You know, with this whole buried alive in space business you Vulcans have got going here."
There is a finality to Jim's tone.
"I gather there is no hope for rescue."
"Nope, sorry. When I left the Enterprise, Nyota made it clear I was on my own."
Made it crystal clear. He doesn't think about that exchange.
"You are remarkably accepting of this situation."
"I don't want to die," Jim's voice is soft. "But, I can think of worse ways to go."
It is getting colder.
The reality of their situation sinks in like the cold seeping through their skin to the very marrow of their bones.
And suddenly, they are desperate to touch each other, to feel each other.
It is so cold.
They are desperate to taste each other one last time, before the deep freeze sets in, before everything is locked and immovable as blood slows, as the fire that burns inside them is gutted out.
The cold gets to Spock worse than Jim. Despite the movement and his desire, Spock can't stop shivering. Violently.
They do their best to share body heat, to keep moving. Jim takes Spock's hands and encases them in his. He lies on top of Spock, wraps himself around and covers them with their clothes.
But he can feel Spock slipping away.
Meld with me, he wills. Meld with me and we'll go together. Don't leave me. Don't you dare fucking leave me.
Spock's hands are shaking. Fingers like ice. Barely a whisper of telepathic contact.
Do it! he wills.
Willpower's the only thing they've got left.
Spock, Ang'jmizn of the Vulcan Fleet, trained to the utmost in Vulcan disciplines of self control, inhales. The air is sharp in his lungs, burning with cold.
He suppresses all sensation and focuses only on Jim. Jim, who is calling to him, offering refuge in his mind.
Control. Willpower. Jim was always creating choices, making options, even in slavery, even in death.
"My mind to your mind" my thoughts to your thoughts
Jim is hit with a wave of cold. Spock is so cold, it's all he can think about. His mind's fixated on it, trapped in a temperature differential.
He wills it away. He thinks of Iowa, he thinks of Earth. Thinks of home, of cornfields and blue skies, green grass, Indian summers, sweltering humidity, rivers of water. He thinks of San Francisco, the way the city lit up on a sunny day. He thinks of all the stars he's seen, all the systems he's charted. He thinks of gold, of swimming in a lake under the hot sun, of beaches, wet sand. Of light reflected in waves, light reflected on canyon walls.
There's too much water in his vision. He can feel Spock's mind recoil at these places unfamiliar.
He wills it away. He thinks of ShiKahr, thinks of Vulcan. Thinks of Spock's estate, the red sand, orange skies, the rock gardens, the ceremonial fire burning. Thinks of T'Kuht, the way it hung like overripe fruit in Vulcan's sky. He thinks of the day he was taken to T'Pring as a gift, thinks of the flowing robes Spock wore, the vision of him tall and majestic. He reminds Spock of a life that once was, a life where he commanded thousands of Vulcans, directed hundreds of ships, days when he was conqueror and nothing in the universe could stop him.
Spock's thoughts, quiet like his voice and dark like his eyes.
Until Jim. Until Jim came into his life and changed everything. Life turned upside down, duty no longer sufficient to keep his existence. Honor a poor substitute for the light of Jim's blue eyes, tradition lackluster against Jim's kisses, his passion, his untamed spirit striving, ever striving, for freedom.
It was not that way from the beginning. Was he truly Spock's e'shua, weaving enchantments, making Spock feel things he did not think were possible? He gave Jim the keys to Vulcan, he gave Jim everything and he could not regret it. There were days when he wanted to regret, wanted to forget, days when he was deep in space on another campaign, after a battle, watching the destruction of the enemy fleet and he wanted to leave Jim. Abandon the reckless fire burning inside him. But always he was pulled back to Vulcan. If Jim had not been on Vulcan, Spock knew he would be drawn to wherever the human was.
Human. T'Pring said that that word with such disgust. Jealousy. Her thousand emotions screaming against the silver cage she built for herself.
Jim pulls him back from that path. Brings him back to the light and warmth.
Spock can feel his body failing.
Jim pulls him back, tells him to hang on. Tells him to stay.
He will stay. He will do anything for Jim. He already has.
I'm coming with you when you go. I'm coming with you.
Spock will not stop him. He never could.
And in the deep cold empty, in the vast dark space, floating without destination, entombed among the stars, two men, one Terran, one Vulcan, one slave, one conqueror, bodies pressed together like hands of supplication, of prayer, of intimacy, mind joined like fingers interlaced, two traitors, one who gave up life and honor, one who gave up freedom, two men whose bodies radiated heat irrevocably, lost energy to the void surrounding them, slipped further to their fate chosen and assigned.
Walked forward into the darkness, fire burning, flickering, struggling, but walked forward, standing tall.
Two traitors, one Terran, one Vulcan, entombed among the stars, stood in each other's light, walked forward into the darkness.
And refused to say goodbye.