The world stopped with a word. The blood ceased its thundering journey through his veins, his shuddering breaths stopped short before they left his lungs, and his vision narrowed to the bloodless face of the man who had died so incontrovertibly by his hand.
His mental shields, weakened by his illness and shattered by the violent end of the battle, failed to protect him from the flood-like waves of pain and accusation emanating from McCoy, who had taken Jim from his hands. He loosened his grip on the ahn woon and let his friend go, feeling something within himself slipping free also.
His blood had begun again its deafening rhythm, no longer the wild thrum of madness - that particular beast had miraculously fled, but the pounding, one heartbeat after another, of emotion and pain, incessantly and so overwhelmingly that he almost passed out right there on the sands of Koon-ut Kal-if-fee. He could not allow himself such an easy release in the face of his guilt, and the part of him that always made him confront his demons did so again. A stubborn spark within his mind suggested that, perhaps, he retained enough pride to not fall before his fellow Vulcans, here on his own land.
He felt nothing as McCoy took Jim's body away. The pain of his friend's death had pierced him in an instant, blinding in its intensity, but had burned itself down to embers just as quickly as he felt the part of himself he had given in friendship to Jim die, too. There were other emotions to take the place of grief, swifter in their onslaught, and designed to hurt in the places grief could not always reach.
T'Pring did not want him.
The rejection was bittersweet. Indeed, he had never wholly believed that he could live as her husband, but she offered him a lasting tie to Vulcan, a bond that would never be broken once consummated, and proof that he was just as worthy as any other Vulcan male. He would not have to see her other than during his Time if he did not want to, yet their marriage would provide him with status and a permanent presence on Vulcan. It was a means of finally silencing his childhood accusers, anyone who dared to call him human despite the colour of his blood or the points on his ears.
Stonn was a fool, and had been since childhood. His family, for the most part no cleverer than he, were unwise in their dealings with others and had paid the price in their low clan status. Stonn would never earn a place among the scholars of Vulcan, nor would he be regarded well, considered even, by those of this world with positions of power. Spock outclassed him in every regard but one, and Spock knew that Stonn had been chosen for this reason alone, T'Pring choosing the sharpest of all the blades with which she could wound him. The price she would pay to see him humiliated, a life with a man Spock doubted she had any respect for, other than for the purity of his blood, only made the knife cut a little deeper.
A wicked part of his mind urged him to stay, to witness the sham her life with Stonn would be, wanting to see her pay for her deceit. But too much of him remembered what else she had been willing to destroy in her quest to be rid of him and another emotion slammed forward in his consciousness.
She smiled without really smiling. She must have known, even as weak as their bond had been, what Jim was to Spock, must have known that she would wound Spock fatally no matter the outcome of the fight. And still she smiled.
By law, she was his. His property. He thought savagely of locking her away, like any other possession, until she was of use, ignoring her the way he had been ignored, refusing to acknowledge her, except as an object he owned. But then she would know of his hate, and while this did not entirely bother him, he realised it would be a small, yet significant, victory for her, proof that the human in him existed, that the Vulcan part did not control. He could not let himself hate, not even for the hateful things she had done.
When he had dismissed T'Pring and her worthless consort from his mind, he came to realise that the powerful negative emotions had filled the empty place in his soul. They gave him reason and purpose. If he had allowed the hate to continue to grow, it could have consumed him; his existence would have been based entirely on vengeance, and T'Pring would have won, over and over again.
He was now free from the hate, free from a meaningless bond, and painfully torn free of the part of his life that had had any value to him. He was adrift, Vulcan, but not Vulcan, and no longer welcomed by the humans who had accepted him. He had killed the man who had been his friend, and the crime was unforgiveable.
Perhaps T'Pau, her beady eyes ever-observant, might have sensed his utter desolation; certainly his meaning was abundantly clear when she had, in the manner of Vulcan custom and courtesy, wished him long life and prosperity, and he had replied, "I shall do neither. I have killed my captain and my friend."
It was not unknown in Vulcan's distant past for men who had declared themselves t'hy'la to not long survive the death of the other; such was the nature and strength of the bond. T'Pau, for all she questioned Spock's Vulcan heritage, could not have failed to see the similarity between the bond of t'hy'la and what she had seen today between Spock and his captain, even if she could not believe that the ancient Vulcan bond of brotherhood was indeed what these two men shared.
The empty place could not be filled by hate, or even by grief. Spock felt himself start to slip into the hole even before the transporter effect had begun to take him back to the ship.
The Enterprise felt different without Jim. The man who had the ability to light a room simply by smiling was gone. Spock, too, would soon be gone. He would give operational command to Mr Scott, with instructions to surrender himself for arrest on the nearest starbase, but he doubted he could remain for even that long. He had robbed this ship of the man who was her heart.
The severance of his friend from his mind made it real. He would face the consequences.
The shock was almost too much for his unprotected mind to bear.
Suddenly, the hollow place was filled again, fully and quite inexplicably. Jim, dead at his hands, was alive under his frantic grip, smiling in welcome, smiling in response to his smile. The doctor had teased, and Spock had welcomed it, knowing that the world - his world - was right if McCoy was digging at him.
Jim had spared him from further abuse by McCoy's needling wit, and taken him back to his computers on the bridge. The link to the life of his childhood was severed. The link to his life with his friends was an unbreakable bond in the centre of his being.
He was home.
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