A/N: Finally, my longest story to date is complete! It took a lot longer than I had planned on but at least it was only… what, like five months? That's not so bad.
I'd like to think every single one of my readers, everyone who added this story to their favorites or story alerted it and, most of all, everyone who reviewed it. Your kind words of encouragement were truly inspiring :)
Sorry for being such an angstboat. My next story will be happier, I promise!
Three days after Kirk's announcement of their new mission, Spock approached him in his quarters. They were then within two days' distance of Decos Vau.
"What do you want, Mr. Spock?" Kirk asked. He could feel his feet twitching to run away, but he pushed the urge down. What kind of a Captain would he be if he couldn't even hold a decent, work-related conversation with his First Officer? Besides, they were in his quarters. Where was he going to run?
"I have just finished reading your briefing on the Decos Vau mission," Spock said. "Am I to understand that you intend to beam down to the planet alone?"
"You are," Kirk replied.
Spock raised an eyebrow. "If you do not mind my saying so, it seems like an unwise decision. Sir," he added, lest he seem mutinous. "The aliens that inhabit Decos Vau have proved hostile before. As the most important person on the ship, it is not a good tactical choice to put you in a dangerous situation by yourself."
"I'm the only person who's actually spoken to them," Kirk reasoned. "And if I go down by myself, they're less likely to interpret it as an attack."
Of course, there was also the hidden motive of begging the aliens to change their deal. Kirk would rather none of his crew witnessed that.
"It is still dangerous," Spock argued. "You will be utterly defenseless. Please, allow me to beam down with you."
"No," Kirk replied instantly. "You're not going back there."
"No!" Kirk repeated, his voice rising. "You almost got killed last time, there's no way I'm putting you in that kind of danger again. I know you seem to have a hard time remembering it, but I still love you. I'm not letting you beam down, knowing the risk."
Spock bristled a little but he didn't argue back, his shame probably subduing him.
"I will keep in constant contact with the ship," Kirk said. "If something goes wrong, you'll know about it."
Provided the signal didn't get jammed like last time.
Spock stalked down the corridor, his face impassive as always despite his internal conflict. When he first heard they would be returning to Decos Vau, he had felt hope. This could be his chance to regain what he had lost there.
But the Captain's unwavering decision to beam down by himself put a stop to those plans. Spock could not tell him of his intentions, he had already toyed with Jim's feelings enough, but how else was he meant to convince the Captain that his presence on the planet was needed?
"Well, don't you look cheerful."
Spock came to a stop and all but glared at the Doctor. "Vulcans are never 'cheerful'."
"You've got that right," McCoy muttered. "So why the long face? And don't you dare," he added when Spock opened his mouth to reply. "You know damn well I don't mean that literally."
"I do not wish to discuss it," Spock said dismissively.
"Is this about the mission?" McCoy guessed.
"I refer to my previous statement."
McCoy snorted. "Look, none of us like having to go back to that Godforsaken planet. Just thank your lucky stars Jim doesn't plan on including you in the landing party." He paused. "He doesn't, does he? Because he told me-"
"You were informed correctly," Spock cut in. "The Captain does not intend on allowing me to beam down to Decos Vau."
"Well, there you go. You don't even have to go near the damn planet."
Spock hesitated. Doctor McCoy was the Captain's best friend, but he had also been present for one of the most difficult nights of Spock's life. He understood Spock's position better than most would. "That is precisely the problem."
"I wish to go back to the planet's surface," Spock explained, "and speak to the aliens."
"Why?" McCoy asked, bewildered.
"To gain back what I lost," Spock answered.
McCoy eyed Spock suspiciously. "You… but you've already broken your bond with Jim."
"You consider this a bad idea," Spock stated, slightly disappointed. He did not know why he had been hoping for the Doctor's support
"Well…" McCoy seemed to be looking for the right words. "It's unexpected."
Spock wanted to ask why but in a way, he could understand McCoy's surprise. Since their first visit to Decos Vau, he had shown nothing for the Captain but blatant apathy.
"Are you serious about this?"
Spock raised an eyebrow, as if to say 'aren't I always?' McCoy rolled his eyes.
"Are you thinking about this clearly?" He amended. "Are you even capable of it right now, with everything that's been going on?"
Spock hesitated as he considered the Doctor's inquiry. His mental state was unquestionably delicate and it was not unreasonable to think that that might influence his decisions. But the intense desire he had experienced in the past few days was nothing new. It had been muted before but present all the same.
"I am," Spock finally replied, only marginally less honest than he would have liked. "Believe me Doctor, this is not a decision I take lightly."
McCoy did not seem satisfied. "You realize then, that you'd have to make some sort of sacrifice."
"I expect I will," Spock said.
"And you're alright with that?"
Spock considered it briefly. "I cannot say for certain, as I do not know what that sacrifice may be."
McCoy regarded him with an unreadable expression. Spock had to admit that it was slightly disconcerting, as the Doctor was prone to 'wearing his heart on his sleeve', as the human idiom went.
"I know," McCoy admitted.
It took Spock a moment to realize his meaning. Once he did, he felt inexplicably betrayed. "Explain," he demanded.
"What exactly did Jim tell you about the deal he made with the aliens?" McCoy asked. "Did he tell you that it was nonnegotiable? That the aliens didn't want anything you two had to offer except what they ended up taking?" Spock nodded silently, no longer trusting himself to speak. "Well, he lied."
"And they wanted nothing else instead?"
Spock's mind reeled. This unexpected piece of information threw every event of the past four months out of perspective. A multitude of questions flickered through his mind, but one stood out. "Why?"
"To protect you," McCoy said. "He figured that if you found out what else the aliens wanted, you'd trade it in out of guilt."
But Spock did not get a chance to finish his question. At that moment, the Captain came walking down the hallway along with Mr. Scott.
"Bones!" Kirk exclaimed when he spotted the Doctor. "We were just on our way to lunch. Want to join us?" Spock noted that this invitation was not extended to him. The Captain still found it difficult to be around Spock off-shift and as of a few moments ago, Spock could say the same.
McCoy shot Spock an apologetic look and went to join his two fellow officers. Spock only inclined his head and walked off in the opposite direction, ignoring the sense of betrayal that welled up in him again at the sight of his Captain.
The next two days passed without so much as one word from Doctor McCoy. Spock considered seeking him out but he realized McCoy had chosen to ignore him for a reason. Undoubtedly he felt he had let down the Captain by telling Spock as much as he had and did not wish to further the infraction. Spock had to respect that, however grudgingly. He had no intention of wringing the information he wanted out of the unwilling doctor, not when he could get it from the aliens of Decos Vau when he next met them.
Despite the discovery of Kirk's lies, Spock's goals had not changed. Kirk may have hidden the truth from him but he had done so with the best of intentions in mind and Spock could not conceive of throwing away both their chances at happiness over a simple grudge. That sense of betrayal lingered but it paled in comparison to the desire Spock still harbored for Kirk and probably always would as long as they were still stationed on the same ship.
But the fact still remained that Kirk intended to beam down to Decos Vau by himself. Spock attempted several times to change his mind, arguing with the Captain and citing regulation, but Kirk would not budge. When the day of the mission arrived, Spock was forced to admit defeat. Officially, he was to take no part in the mission other than stay on the ship and command it in the Captain's absence.
Spock lived by rules and regulation. However, there were situations where even he knew victory could not be achieved without bending them a little. While he had never directly disobeyed the Captain's orders before, Spock considered this a more than worthy cause.
It briefly occurred to him that perhaps his emotions were influencing his decision more than he had realized before. He pushed the thought out of his mind before he could dwell on it. Now was not the time for uncertainty.
Spock stood in the transporter room along with Mr. Scott, the Captain and Doctor McCoy, who had not, judging by his furious complaints, been informed that this was a solo mission.
"Don't expect me to patch you up when you come back in pieces," the Doctor grumbled.
The Captain ignored him and took his position on the pad. "Energize, Mr. Scott."
Spock watched his Captain disappear in a swirl of white lights. He was to reappear in the same area where he had last left the planet over four months prior. Hopefully above ground. He would then be beamed back to the ship from the same location in one hour, provided everything went according to plan.
"Mr. Scott," Spock said, breaking the silence that had settled in the transporter room and making both humans jump. "You may return to your usual duties. I will stay here and monitor the Captain's whereabouts."
Mr. Scott looked slightly confused but he left nevertheless. He had never had reason to question Spock's orders before and would not begin to do so now.
Spock glanced at McCoy, who had his arms crossed and was regarding Spock with some suspicion. "I believe you are needed back in Sickbay, Doctor."
"M'Benga can cover for me," McCoy said. "What are you planning on doing that requires so much privacy?" He paused, as something occurred to him. "You're not thinking of following Jim down to that planet, are you?"
"It does not concern you," Spock said, hoping against hope that the Doctor would leave without further questioning.
"The hell it doesn't!" McCoy exclaimed. "I haven't called you in for a physical yet because I wanted to give you space to heal on your own terms but this has gone on for long enough. You're letting your emotions get in the way of your duties. As soon as this mission's over, I'm putting you on medical leave so you can go-"
"-talk to a professional healer and what did you just say?"
Spock closed his eyes briefly, before reopening them and locking them with the Doctor's. "For four months I have felt incomplete," he said, "as if the better half of my soul were missing. Now is my opportunity to regain it Please, allow me to try."
Very rarely had Spock ever been reduced to begging before and always in a life-or-death situation. This blatant emotionalism was rarer still and a true testament to his determination. McCoy seemed to realize this. After a few long moments of gaping wordlessly at Spock, he ran a hand through his hair and let out a sigh of defeat.
"Just... try to be back on the ship before Jim?" He said.
Spock allow himself to feel relief for 0.8 seconds and nodded gratefully at the Doctor, before turning back to the transporter's controller board and punching in new coordinates, 5 kilometers away from where the Captain had been beamed.
Once he had fulfilled that task, Spock took his position on the pad. "Doctor, if you will."
The last thing he saw before white lights swallowed him whole and obscured his vision was Doctor McCoy's worried expression.
Decos Vau was as unpleasant as Spock remembered it to be. The air was dry and cool, his surroundings barren. Not for the first time, Spock wondered what it was about this planet that made it worth killing for.
His musings came to a short stop when he spotted a humanoid alien walking his way. He looked male, circa 190 centimeters tall and with skin so pale, it almost appeared translucent. He was wearing an odd garment that resembled a ceremonial robe, whipping around his long legs as he strove towards Spock.
"You are quite off base, Vulcan," the alien said in a pleasant tone of voice as he came closer. "Your Captain is a few kilometers north."
Spock wondered briefly how this supposedly unknown alien race knew of the Federation's standard measurements but he pushed the issue aside for another time. "It is intentional. I am here against my Captain's wishes."
The humanoid raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? I had been wondering at your Federation's wisdom, to send not one, but two of their representatives back to our planet, when we had explicitly ordered you to stay away."
Spock regarded the alien. He did not seem angered but then, appearances could be deceiving. "Do you intend to kill us for trespassing?" He asked calmly.
"No," the alien replied with a wave of his hand. "We know that we may have been overly hostile during your last visit. If we had taken the time to read you a bit better we would have realized sooner that you have no ill intentions."
"Indeed." Spock fought the urge to fidget, feeling uneasy to be around a being that could sense his thoughts. "Then you know why I am here."
"I do," the alien confirmed. "And I must say, it is very admirable of you. But I am afraid that you have come in vain."
"And why is that?"
Without warning, Spock was transported along with the nameless alien to an underground cavern. Looking around, Spock could see no exit. The cavern was filled to the ceiling with floating glass spheres, each sphere containing a ball of light, varying in size but all shining brightly.
"Quite a collection, isn't it?" The alien asked proudly. "We have been gathering these from various alien races for over a hundred years." He pointed at a sphere hovering just above ground, holding a bright red ball of light that twitched erratically. "This one was particularly difficult to obtain. A Klingon warrior's spirit." At the slight widening of Spock's eyes, the alien quickly reassured him; "Oh, don't worry, it's not his soul. Just his... well, temperament, I guess you could say."
They walked to the other end of the cavern, to a large, isolated sphere. It contained a small, flickering light. Spock suddenly felt a strong urge to reach out and break the glass ball.
"This is your love for your bondmate," the alien explained. "When we first removed it from you, it was the crowning jewel in our collection. The glass sphere could hardly contain it, it was so big, so bright." He sighed. "What a disappointment it was when it started to dim already the next day. At this rate, it'll be gone within the week. It's long since damaged beyond repair."
Spock reached out one hand and laid it on the sphere. It was warm to the touch. "Are you certain of this?"
The alien frowned. "Of course we are. We've done everything in our power to stop its decline but it just keeps getting worse and worse."
"It is pure emotion," Spock said. "It is not like your warrior's spirit, without the chance to expand and evolve, it will become stagnant and die."
The alien considered his words. "How do we make it expand and evolve then?"
"You cannot. It does not belong to you."
There was a long silence, during which Spock contemplated his chance at success, were he to burst the glass sphere and contact the ship as quickly as he could.
"So you are suggesting that we must give it back to you, in order for it to grow?" The alien finally asked.
"I am," Spock answered.
"But then we won't be able to enjoy it!"
Spock stared at the petulant alien, a mounting frustration building in his chest. This being's temperament was impossible to understand, switching between that of a reasonable adult and a selfish child. "Is it still not the better alternative to letting it die?"
"I suppose so," the alien agreed reluctantly. "But that still leaves us empty-handed."
"What would you like in return?" Spock asked, regretting his words as soon as he saw the satisfied smirk on the alien's face. He had been tricked.
"The same thing we requested from your Captain the last time," the alien declared. "Your telepathy."
Spock all but felt the blood freeze in his veins. His first, instinctual response was to call off the deal. His telepathy was invaluable to him. Without it he would be worthless as a Vulcan. The alien might as well have asked him for his ears or his eyes.
If he did not give up his telepathy, he would never be able to love Jim again. But was that ability really worth the sacrifice demanded of him?
There was no question about it.
"I accept your offer."
The alien's smirk widened. "Excellent."
With a snap of his finger, the glass sphere boiled and melted; leaving a small, foul smelling puddle on the ground. The light inside remained undamaged.
"Go ahead," the alien urged. "As soon as you touch it, it will be reabsorbed and your telepathy will take its place in my collection."
Spock reached out without hesitation and closed his fist around the small ball of light. For one moment he could feel its warmth infusing him, racing up his arm and spreading around his body and then... nothing.
Before Spock could accuse the alien of swindling him, he was struck with the odd sensation of his very self being sucked away from him. He could see the bright, white light exiting his gaping mouth and no matter how hard he tried, he could not close it.
As soon as this was over, Spock fell to the cavern floor, drained in every way. The world around him was clouded, every sound muted and every color dulled. His own body felt strange to him. "You-"
"Our transaction is complete," the alien said pleasantly. "I will now return you to the surface."
Spock could say nothing as his surroundings faded away. All he could think was that he had just made a horrible mistake.
"There he is!"
Scotty's exclamation rang around the transporter room and Kirk and McCoy immediately ran up to the controller board to see for themselves.
Upon arriving on Decos Vau, Kirk had almost immediately been met by the aliens. They had been considerably nicer than last time (they didn't even try to kill him!), although one of them had disappeared pretty quickly and without explanation. The remaining alien had informed Kirk that the rest of the planets in the system were in fact uninhabited and that Starfleet was free to build has many bases as they pleased on them.
Their meeting had wrapped up quickly after that and Kirk had been able to return to the Enterprise much sooner than anticipated.
He had been surprised to find McCoy in the transporter room rather than Scotty and after a little persuading, the Doctor had told him everything.
Kirk was furious, until he found out that Spock's signal had disappeared half an hour ago. Then he had been both furious and worried beyond belief.
Now, ten minutes later, Kirk could not describe his relief at Scotty's excited exclamation. Even though a small part of him realized that he would have to seriously discipline Spock after this, all he could muster up right now was happiness that the Vulcan had been found again.
"Beam him aboard."
Spock had no sooner materialized on the planet's surface than a familiar tingling set in, signaling that he was about to be beamed aboard the Enterprise. He appeared in the transporter room, still huddled on the ground, his entire body shaking minutely. He felt horrible, his gut churning with regret and shame at having been taken for a fool.
Reluctantly, Spock looked up and met the Captain's blue eyes with his own. HIs heart stuttered.
All at once, his regret melted away as his body was once again infused with the warmth from before, only a hundred times stronger.
"Jim," he breathed, with as much love and adoration in his voice as ever before.
He stumbled clumsily to his feet and all but fell into Jim's open embrace.
Jim's breath hitched. "Spock, what-"
Spock silenced him with a desperate kiss. This time there was no hesitation on Jim's half; he responded eagerly, his arms tightening their hold on Spock's waist. A thousand glorious emotions rushed through Spock and he ran his hands through Jim's golden hair, doing everything he could to increase the contact between them.
They broke apart and Jim stared disbelievingly into Spock's eyes. "How?"
"I made another trade with the inhabitants of Decos Vau," Spock told him.
Jim's eyes widened with realization. "Spock, you didn't..."
"It does not matter," Spock said. "I consider it worth the sacrifice."
Jim looked like he wanted to argue with that statement, so Spock kissed him again, hoping to convey how well and truly he meant it. The world was still clouded, every sound muted and every color dulled, he still felt like a stranger in his own body, but none of it mattered. Jim was still as clear as ever before, he still shone just as brilliantly. Spock had no doubt that whatever difficulties he would run into in the years to come, he would never regret his decision.