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NOTE: This story and the story which precedes it, The Wheel Turns, were printed in the zine Wheel of Fate.
PART I - ULTIMATUM PRESENTED
As the Enterprise settled into orbit around the shore leave planet Marnon, Kirk stretched luxuriously in the command chair. It had been a difficult and dangerous mission - leave would be more than usually welcome. Turning in his chair, he smiled at Spock, and received in response the barely perceptible narrowing of the eyes that told him the Vulcan shared his anticipation.
Instead of their usual camping trip they had booked in to one of Marnon's most expensive resort hotels. Kirk was looking forward to the change, to the recreational facilities offered, and to sampling the galactically-famed luxury of the hotel.
The standby crew came aboard, and as soon as they had handed over, Kirk and Spock made their way to the transporter room and beamed down to the planet. After saying goodbye to McCoy and Scotty, who had made their own arrangements, they set off for the hotel. As they registered the desk clerk handed a packet to Spock.
"A message for you, Commander, sent to await collection."
Kirk could not help noticing that the envelope came from Vulcan, and he recognised the distinctive handwriting of Spock's father. He felt vaguely uneasy - experience had taught him that any communication from Sarek usually meant trouble, and Spock needed this rest as badly as he did.
They had already planned to spend the afternoon sailing, and to Kirk's relief Spock made no reference to the letter when they met again in the hotel foyer. The hours passed pleasantly, and Kirk soon found himself relaxing after the strain of the last few months. He always enjoyed Spock's company, and was delighted when they had the chance to be on their own, away from the demands of their duties.
After dinner Kirk remembered that he had not yet replied to a letter from his nephew, and returned to his room to do so, arranging to call for Spock in an hour's time, when they would go out and explore the town.
His letter despatched, he was about to head for Spock's room when he stopped, and smiled; he had a much better idea. Finding a quiet corner he sat down, closed his eyes, and concentrated.
Some time ago he and Spock had been stranded on the planet Derran (See 'The Wheel Turns'); he had suffered from total amnesia, and in order to protect him, Spock had been compelled to establish an unusually close mind link with him. Their rescue had been so long delayed that the link had become permanent, and since then Spock had been training him in its use.
Though he would not have admitted it even to himself, Kirk had been a little afraid when he had learned that the link could not be broken; he had not fully understood its nature, and had believed that he and Spock would always be in contact, fully aware of each other's thoughts and emotions. Gently, patiently, Spock had reassured him, showing him that the link would only operate when one of them wished to contact the other; it required a definite concentration to establish contact, but now either of them could do so easily. During the training they had come to understand each other as they never had before, and as he grew more familiar with the link, Kirk's hesitancy and uncertainty vanished - he could now claim admission to Spock's mind in the certain knowledge that he would be welcome.
This time, however, he met with no response. Instead, he came up against a solid, impenetrable barrier; for some reason, Spock was shielding his mind against him. Seriously worried, he made for the lift, and was soon knocking on Spock's door.
The usual permission to enter was a relief; he had begun to fear that Spock would not admit him. The room was lit only by cloudy moonlight, but as his eyes became accustomed to the dimness he could make out the Vulcan's slim figure curled up in the window seat. He crossed the room, and to his surprise Spock reached for his hand, pulling him down beside him. For some moments neither spoke, then,
"What's wrong, Spock?" Jim asked quietly.
"You know that I had a message today from Vulcan - from my father?"
"Yes, I saw it. I hope it's not bad news?"
"That's what I want... what I must explain to you. It is... very difficult." He paused, and turned to look at Kirk-, his face was in shadow, his eyes hidden, but Kirk knew that the Vulcan could see his face clearly.
"For some time now, I have been under great pressure from my family... my father wishes me to return to Vulcan; he... he intends to arrange a... a new marriage for me."
Kirk made no answer. He felt... he did not know how he felt. Suddenly the two of them were alone in the universe - everything else was somehow unreal. He tried to speak, but no words came; his throat seemed dry and paralysed. Spock went on.
"As you know, my family is of some importance on Vulcan. My father writes that T'Pau is... displeased... because I am still unmarried. He has the authority to arrange a match for me, and demands my consent."
"And if you refuse?"
"If I refuse, I can never return to Vulcan; my family will reject me. Sarek presents me with an ultimatum, Jim; Starfleet - or Vulcan."
At that moment full moonlight flooded into the room, lighting Spock's face with a terrible, revealing cruelty. He was unprepared, and the sheer misery in his eyes brought a cry of protest to Kirk's lips. He caught at Spock's hands.
"Don't, Spock! I can't bear to see you like this. Is there nothing you can do to change Sarek's mind?"
"Nothing; he is determined."
"But it doesn't mean you have to leave Starfleet; you can go through with the marriage and return, as you would have done if you'd married T'Pring."
Spock stirred restlessly. "Think, Jim. You know what is involved in a Vulcan marriage. When I was bonded to T'Pring we were children; although the bond held, and drew us together, I was able to erect defences against its going too deep. We never really knew each other - perhaps that is why she rejected me. Now that I know what it is like to be linked to someone who understands and cares about me as a person, I know that I could not tolerate a permanent link with a stranger... who could not even begin to comprehend the... the problems I face as a half-breed. You have never intruded, have always respected my... emotional reticence; I fear that a Vulcan wife might not. In addition, among Humans, I have learned... many things... that a full Vulcan could never understand. You must know... I cannot risk... forgive me, I can say no more."
Kirk understood. Gently he laid one hand on Spock's cheek, and in response felt the Vulcan's fingers touch his face. The barrier Spock had erected between them fell, and their minds linked.
Between these two lay much that because of Human pride and Vulcan reticence would never be put into words; only in their linked minds would its existence be acknowledged. Time ceased to have any meaning - they had entered their own world where race, tradition, upbringing no longer existed, and they stood face to face.
When at last they broke the link, nothing had been resolved. Kirk gazed down at their clasped hands, his heart heavy with dread.
"How long do you have to decide?"
"Not long; Sarek is waiting for my answer."
"You - you will tell me, won't you, Spock?"
"I give you my promise - as soon as I decide, I will tell you."
They parted, and Kirk returned to his room, but he did not sleep. He could not forget his last sight of Spock still sitting in the window seat,. his dark head tilted against the glass as he stared up into the night sky.
PART II - ULTIMATUM REJECTED
Kirk was called early in the morning with a message from the spaceport commander which required his personal attention. Leaving word for Spock, he went to the base, where to his fury he was detained for most of the day. It was evening when he returned to the hotel, and called Spock's room; there was no reply. Kirk was concerned, but not seriously worried - probably the Vulcan had gone off alone to think. He tried to reach him by mind link, but the barrier was back; obviously Spock wanted no distractions while he reached his decision. Kirk was so tired that despite himself he fell asleep, and did not waken till morning. There was still no reply from Spock's room and, seriously alarmed now, he questioned the desk clerk. The Vulcan had left the hotel early the previous day, and had not yet returned; he had left a letter for Kirk with instructions that it be handed to him only when he inquired about his First Officer. Returning to his room Kirk opened the letter with shaking hands; as he read it, the words blurred before his eyes.
"Forgive me, Jim. I have received another message from Sarek - he demands an immediate answer, and I have none to give. Not only is the marriage he proposes impossible for me, he also insists that I return permanently to Vulcan. I cannot give up Starfleet, yet my Vulcan blood is too strong to accept exile. I do as I must. I will not insult you by telling you not to grieve for me, but it may help you to know that my greatest joy has been in knowing you. May you live long, Jim - and prosper."
He must remain calm; perhaps it was not too late. Returning to the foyer he questioned the desk clerk again. Spock had left the previous morning, hiring one of the hotel's air cars. It had returned some hours later under automatic pilot, so no-one knew where he had gone. After some thought the man remembered that Spock had been interested in the vast Ardan Desert just outside the city. Mention of the desert struck a responsive chord in Kirk's memory, and increased his fear. There was probably nothing he could do, but he must try. He pulled out his communicator.
"Kirk to Enterprise - beam me up at once."
McCoy, who had spent the previous evening drinking with Scotty, was finally aroused by the frantic knocking on his cabin door. Muttering angrily he stalked across to open it, composing on the way a blistering attack on the idiot who insisted on waking a hard working doctor at unsocial hours; but the distraught figure that stumbled into the room banished all trace of levity.
As his doctor, McCoy had seen Kirk in many moods he would have hidden from anyone else - angry, apprehensive, indecisive, even afraid. Never until now had he seen him almost incoherent with grief and fear.
Applying an old-fashioned remedy he slapped Kirk hard across the face several times, and was rewarded by seeing the Captain pull himself together.
"Thanks, Bones. I'm sorry.- I just couldn't seem to help it."
"Here - drink that; not another word until you do." He watched as Kirk drained the brandy, then took the glass from shaking fingers.
"Now - what's wrong?"
"Bones - it's Spock. He's going to... to kill himself."
"Spock? You must be mad! He'd never... "
"Believe me, Bones, I know." Kirk buried his face in his hands; when he raised his head again his eyes were wet.
"I can't explain all of it, even to you. It was Sarek... he's arranging a new marriage for Spock, and wants him to return to Vulcan. It would mean he had to leave Starfleet... or face perpetual exile from Vulcan. It was... an impossible choice. He told me once... on Vulcan, there's a form of suicide... he's gone into the desert alone... with no water... to die! We've killed him, Sarek and I; between us we... tore him apart."
For a moment McCoy stared uncomprehendingly, then realisation dawned.
"Oh my God! Jim, I understand."
He sat down on the bed beside Kirk, holding him as the tears came.
"God help you both! Is there nothing you can do?"
"If I find him in time, perhaps. Scotty's scanning the Ardan Desert for him now. I made some inquiries before I left Marnon, but he'd been gone too long."
"And if you do find him?"
"I don't know... but if it's too late... how do I go on, Bones?"
There was no answer to the pitiful question; McCoy could only hold his friend, giving what comfort he could by his presence. At least he could ease the strain of waiting; he reached for the medical pouch he always had with him, and administered a sedative. Making Jim comfortable, he dressed quickly and left for the bridge, where an unusually grim-faced Scott sat in command. At the sensors Chekov worked busily; the air of tension was electric. Uhura and Sulu were in their usual places, doing what they could. Although none of them knew what had happened they were aware that they worked for Spock's life, and that was all they needed to know - time was their enemy, and they could not afford to fail. Hours passed with no result, and McCoy's sense of foreboding grew stronger - how to tell Jim?
Then at last Chekov turned with a cry of triumph. "Got him! At least, I have a fix on the approximate area."
Returning to his quarters, where Kirk still tossed in uneasy sleep, McCoy stood for several minutes watching his friend, his blue eyes clouded with concern.
Despite his utter confidence in Spock, he had always mistrusted the mind link; it was not natural for Humans, he had always maintained, and had watched with anxiety the subtle changes the establishment of a permanent link had made in his friends. Perhaps, he admitted, that anxiety was tinged with a degree of jealousy that they shared something he could not, but at this moment, his concern was purely for Jim. Gently, insidiously, the linking had grown deeper since their return from Derran, until the emotional state of each man was almost unconsciously reflected in the other. He had seen for himself how the conflict that had driven Spock to suicide had affected Kirk - he was afraid now of the damage that the severance of the link by Spock's death would do to Jim's mind.
There was nothing he could do - it was up to Jim now. With a faint sigh he reached out to waken his friend.
"Shall I beam down with you, Jim?"
McCoy and Kirk stood in the transporter room with Scott at the controls; the doctor wanted no other witnesses when the Captain returned.
"No, Bones; I've got to go alone. If he's still... alive, we have much to say, and not even you have the right to hear. If it's... too late, I... I want to be... alone with him... for the last time."
"I understand; but don't worry, Jim - he's only been gone two days. Vulcans can last a lot longer than that without water, even in the desert."
"I know, but he's very determined. His strength of will has saved us all more than once. He knows I'll be searching for him - he might... make certain... I'm too late."
"I'll wait until I hear from you; if you need me, call, and I'll come."
Kirk touched the doctor's arm lightly. "You always do, don't you, Bones?" He stepped on to the transporter platform. "Energise, Scotty."
The desert sun beat down with almost physical force as Kirk materialised on the sand. He looked round, and sighed. Somewhere in this jumble of rocks and sand was Spock; the sensors reported that he was still alive, but something in the composition of the rocks confused the readings, and this was the closest he had been able to come - the rest of the search must be conducted on foot. Delaying no longer, Kirk began to climb, watching anxiously for the flash of blue he hoped, yet almost feared, to see. It was an effort to move in the intense heat but he kept going, pausing only to wipe the sweat from his eyes.
He should have brought water, he realised very quickly; he was getting thirsty already. In his anxiety to leave the ship he had not thought of it. Then as he stepped through a gap in the rocks, sunlight glinted on water - a small pool trapped in a hollow. Kirk hurried forward eagerly and knelt, only to draw back in disgust - the water was stagnant, evil-smelling. He was about to call McCoy to send down a flask when he noticed something that drove all discomfort from his mind. In the mud at the pool's edge was the clear impression of a hand - a hand with long, slender fingers. He scanned the ground eagerly - someone had knelt here at the water's edge; had leaned over the pool; had... drunk of that poisonous water? He prayed not. Beyond the handprint further tracks on the sand showed where someone had retreated among the rocks. Rising to his feet he followed swiftly- every instinct told him to hurry... hurry!
He could have wept with disappointment when the tracks faded at last on stony ground. Kirk looked round frantically; which way now? It was - 'logical' - that the Vulcan would conceal himself to further hinder the search he knew would be made. That low cliff - perhaps there was a cave? He drove himself on, but despair was in his heart as he thought of that poisonous water, and his own words to McCoy - had Spock 'made certain'? It seemed he had been stumbling among those nightmarish rocks for hours when -
That so-familiar voice; but the tone was one that of all men only Jim Kirk would recognise.
"Where are you?" And that tone, only the Vulcan had ever heard.
"To your right - between the rocks."
Spock was lying propped up against a boulder; he was pale, but otherwise seemed normal. Kirk felt his heart lift until he noticed the unhealthy sheen of sweat on Spock's face, and the feverish glitter in his eyes. Without knowing how he got there, he was on his knees at Spock's side, pulling out his communicator.
Spock's reaction was as fast as ever; with one hand he caught Kirk's wrist, with the other he took the communicator and tossed it away. It lay well beyond Kirk's reach, and he could not break the grip on his wrist.
"Let me go, Spock, I must call Bones."
"No. I cannot permit you to do so. It will not be long now."
"So you did drink some of that water?"
"Yes... I knew you were following me, and I had to be sure; it seemed .... the only way."
"Please, Spock, don't do this." It was a moan of agony.
"I must. I have... considered carefully. The conflict has become too much for me, Jim. If... what we shared... means anything to you, be merciful. Let me go."
"Is that really what you want?"
"It is what I must do. I can go on no longer, torn between my Human and Vulcan blood. If I could choose one without regret... but I am - as I am. Help me, Jim. Let me go."
"I don't know if I have the courage; how do I go on, without you?"
"You are... the Captain of the Enterprise. You will do as you must, as I do. I have never... asked anything of you, Jim... until now."
"I'll try... to do as you wish; but don't send me away - let me be with you, as long as... "
"That is why I called to you; I confess, I wanted you with me... at the last. Forgive me for that."
"It would be so much harder... to know you were alone."
Deliberately Kirk slipped his arms round the Vulcan, cradling the dark head on his shoulder. He was very calm now, his own decision made. No argument could turn Spock from his chosen course - he accepted that, as he supposed he must have done all along. Well, his own mind was clear at last; the weight of the phaser was suddenly comforting against his hip...
They sat in silence for a long time. Each had considered reaching for the mind link, but had rejected it for his own reasons; Spock, to spare Jim the pain he suffered as the poison crept through his body, Jim for fear the Vulcan should read his intentions.
Suddenly Spock shivered, and Jim's arms closed tighter around him.
"Spock! Is it... time?"
"I believe so." The slender fingers brushed Kirk's face lightly. "Jim, I... I want... "
The slim body shuddered and was still; the dark head was suddenly heavy against Kirk's shoulder; the slanting eyes closed slowly. Jim made no sound, only gathered the Vulcan closer, burying his face in the silky hair. He remained so for a long moment, then lifted his head and looked down into the still, secret face, at the silent lips, their last words forever unspoken now. With an unsteady hand he clumsily smoothed the dark hair.
"Goodbye, Spock, my ..." His voice broke on a sob.
Without taking his eyes from the Vulcan's face, one hand reached purposefully for the phaser at his hip.
A few feet behind Kirk, McCoy moved swiftly, silently closer. He had become uneasy when the Captain failed to call in, and all attempts to contact him remained unanswered. He remembered Jim's expression as he left, and his concern grew. There had been something in those eyes...
McCoy had hesitated, wondering how to act for the best. Impossible to break in on what might be Kirk's last meeting with Spock; equally impossible to leave that grief-stricken man alone with the body of his friend. As time crawled by with no word he came to a decision at last, and beamed down to where he believed Kirk to be. There was only the communicator lying on the sand, and he realised what must have happened. From behind the rocks came the low murmur of voices, but he was too far away to hear what was being said. When the voices fell silent he moved forward to find his friends, rounding the rock in time to see Kirk lay his cheek against Spock's hair.
His heart heavy with unshed tears, McCoy came closer, and watched with horrified understanding that deliberate movement of hand to hip. He moved faster than he had ever done in his life - Kirk's fingers had scarcely closed around the butt of the phaser when the hiss of a hypo against his shoulder sent him sprawling forward across Spock's body. It was better so, McCoy thought, for the effects of the severance were even graver than he had feared - at that moment, Jim Kirk was not quite sane. He turned to the Vulcan, scanner in hand. After a moment,
"Scotty! Three to beam up - fast!" Urgency, and a desperate hope, echoed in his voice.
Slowly, unwillingly, Kirk regained consciousness. He was in sickbay - McCoy's doing, he supposed wearily. Frantically he fought to cling to the comforting, friendly blackness where this... pain... did not exist. It was impossible; he was forced back into a grey, leaden world from which sunlight, laughter, hope had suddenly vanished.
What now? he thought. How do I go on, without Spock? Never again to look into those dark, alien eyes that had seen so deeply into his soul-, never again to share that silent communication that said so much more than mere words; never again to feel that touch on his hand, in his mind, to see that face, expressionless to others, to him the mirror of a thousand changing moods.
He was alone now; strange... he had never before realised the utter desolation of that word. A low moan of agony broke from his lips and he buried his face in the pillow to shut out a suddenly empty world.
A hand on his shoulder, a voice speaking urgently in his ear.
"Jim, wake up! Wake up, damn you!"
He opened reluctant eyes. "Bones. Why did you interfere? You should have left me with... him; we could have been... together."
"Jim, listen to me. He's alive. I don't know how, but he's alive."
A sudden surge of hope. Kirk sat up, his hands gripping McCoy's arms, staring into the vivid blue eyes.
"You're sure? Don't lie to me, Bones - I can't take it."
"See for yourself. He's alive - barely."
Kirk swung his feet to the floor. Clinging to McCoy for support he moved to the next bed. Spock lay unmoving, pale and silent.
"A healing trance?"
"No. I've never seen him quite like this before; I don't know what's wrong. I got the poison out of his system - he should have come round by now."
"Then why hasn't he?"
"I think - but 1 can't be certain - that it's a deliberate refusal to respond; he seems to be willing himself to die. I can't reach him, Jim - perhaps you can."
Kirk touched Spock's face with trembling hands. Now, if ever, the link must be made; closing his eyes he summoned every ounce of concentration, willing Spock to respond. He encountered - blankness. No way to reach him - he would not be recalled. Kirk looked up with agonised eyes.
"He won't let me through. He's determined to die, I know it. I can't reach him, Bones."
"I'm not sure... The indicators rose a little when you touched him... You must be getting through somehow. Keep trying - I don't think he'll let go as long as you stay with him."
Kirk sat down on the bed, holding Spock's hands tightly, every nerve concentrated in the effort to break the barrier; he was not even aware when McCoy left the room.
The surgeon had gone to his office, where he called Uhura. There was one slim chance for Spock's life. Once before Sarek of Vulcan had responded when his son was in danger; if a message could reach him in time, he might come again, and if anyone could break Spock's defences, it would be he. Vulcans did not respond to emotional appeals, but his son's life must be of some concern to him - surely he would make an effort to avert the tragedy for which he had been partially responsible?
His message despatched, McCoy returned to sickbay, where all his skill was needed to sustain Kirk's strength. As long as Jim could hold on, McCoy believed, Spock would live; if that tenuous link was broken, however...
PART III - ULTIMATUM RECONSIDERED
On beaming aboard the Enterprise, Sarek noted with some surprise that he was received by Lieutenant-Commander Scott. This was unusual - an Ambassador of his status was usually greeted by the Captain. He did not, of course, feel insulted, but it was... strange; Captain Kirk was usually meticulous about such matters.
As he exchanged the usual formalities with Scott, he made no reference to the reason for his visit - he might have been paying the most routine of courtesy calls. Scotty's well-renowned temper was roused by this seeming indifference to the fate of the man he was proud to call a friend, but he held it firmly in check.
As they passed along the corridors to sickbay Sarek noticed that the ship seemed to be unusually crowded to be in orbit round a shore leave planet. Very few seemed to be actually on duty, but stood talking in small groups wherever he looked. Curiosity was the one emotion Vulcans had totally failed to eliminate; turning to Scotty he said,
"I understand that the crew was granted shore leave, Mr. Scott?"
"Aye, that's right, sir - and a grand planet it is, too."
"Yet I observe that the ship seems to be remarkably well-manned; are you having some technical difficulties?"
Scotty stopped in his tracks, staring at the Ambassador with astonishment.
"Well, wid ye credit that!" he exclaimed at last. "Ambassador, I'm thinking ye could be doing with a few home truths!"
He swept Sarek into the lift, and called it to a halt between floors.
"Right, now we'll no' be interrupted. Listen, man, for years I've had it dinned intae me that Vulcans are supposed tae be intelligent - I'm beginning tae wonder if ye'd ken whit a dug wis if it ran up and bit ye! So ye're wondering why so many of the crew are on board - well, I'll tell ye. As soon as they heard about Mr. Spock they began drifting back, a few at a time - I reckon they're nearly all here now. Oh, they ken fine there's nothing they can do, but they just want to be here. I don't suppose you'd understand, but it so happens that we're all worried sick about that stubborn, pointed-eared son of yours!"
"Please go on, Mr. Scott," Sarek said quietly as the Engineer fell silent, suddenly realising what he had been saying to one of the most influential men in the Federation.
"Aye, well... They tell me that emotion doesn't mean much to your people - I canna' pass judgement on that; but I know my own crew. They don't feel much like fun and games at the moment - Spock's too important to them. Open your eyes, man... or your mind... or whatever; take a good long look at this ship, and for once in your life, try to realise what Spock is!"
Sarek eyed Scott consideringly; despite himself, the appeal had shaken him. On his previous visits to the Enterprise he had recognised with well concealed pride the respect his son commanded from these Humans. And... he was curious. Closing his eyes in concentration he opened his mind and scanned the Enterprise. It was as Scott had claimed; from every corner of the great Starship, from every man and woman on board, one thought, one prayer, was uppermost - Spock must live. It seemed that a great tidal wave of prayer, hope and - yes - affection flowed through the ship to where his son lay. He had never thought that a Vulcan could inspire such devotion in Humans. Visibly shaken, Sarek opened his eyes.
"I think," he said quietly, "that you had better take me to Captain Kirk."
As Sarek approached his son Kirk released his hands and stood, head bent, in silence; under Sarek's compelling gaze he looked up at last, and the Vulcan made an involuntary movement of protest. The silent agony in the hazel eyes reminded him of a trapped animal he had once seen, and released out of compassion. No-one should suffer so, he thought, but this man would not accept pity; the tragic gaze demanded positive action - how should he respond? Kirk stepped forward, his hands held out helplessly.
"Sarek, I beg you... help him."
"Tell me what has happened."
He knew already, but wished to hear how the events appeared to Kirk. The words were unimportant - he listened to the quiet, desperate voice, watched the changing emotions on the expressive face. This was not the James Kirk he had known, vital, decisive, assured; this was a stranger, the haggard face and broken voice eloquent testimony to a grief Sarek would never admit to recognising. As Kirk finished his explanation, Sarek began to speak.
"Captain Kirk, I realise that this is difficult for you to understand, but I cannot do as you wish. My son has made his decision, and we must abide by it. He was presented with a choice between his duty to Vulcan, and his duty to Starfleet. Rather than be compelled to do so, he had elected to terminate his existence in the traditional manner. It was a... logical decision, He has the right to take his own life - I cannot interfere."
Gone now was the grief, the dumb suffering; the hazel eyes blazed with anger, and the voice shook with hatred rather than sorrow.
"Logic! I'm sick to death of that word! Spock's dying, and you dare - you dare stand there and talk to me of logic! You may choose to forget that he's your son... I can only remember that he's my friend. I've always honoured him for his loyalty to Vulcan, never sought to change him. Oh, I don't pretend I've always succeeded, but at least I've tried to understand what he is - have you? You've always rejected his Human side, demanded more of him than you would have done if he'd been fully Vulcan. Couldn't you see what you were doing to him? If he dies, Sarek, we killed him, you and I, as surely as if we'd used a knife. I can accept my share of the blame - can you? We asked too much; Human or Vulcan - we couldn't accept that he is both. We forced him to choose, and he could not. A logical decision? Never! We drove him to his death; perhaps you can forgive yourself - I know I never will. We both knew - and made sure he knew - what we wanted from him; neither of us bothered to ask what he wanted!"
The anger drained away in the face of that impassive calm. Kirk shook his head helplessly and moved back to Spock's side. As his bitter grief, all the sharper for the loss of the small hope he had allowed himself, closed around him again he took Spock's hands in his, as though trying to infuse some of his own will to live into that silent figure. Totally absorbed in Spock he had almost forgotten about Sarek, and was vaguely surprised when the quiet voice spoke behind him.
"Captain Kirk, that is one error of which you could never be guilty; I believe Spock's wishes have always mattered to you. I confess, you have given me much to consider - your appeal, emotional though it was, contained much truth. I will need time to reflect upon your words. With your permission, I will go now to Spock's quarters; he would have returned there to make... certain preparations before he left for the desert. There will be letters which I must study before I make my final decision."
Kirk nodded absently; it was doubtful if he had taken in Sarek's words. His whole being was centred on sustaining that frail thread of life. Intuitively, he knew that McCoy was right - somehow his mind was touching Spock's. The Vulcan would not respond, but neither would he permit himself to die while that frail link existed, fearing that the violence of its severance would damage Kirk's mind. And Kirk knew, as McCoy could not, that Spock was waiting, waiting for sheer exhaustion to dull Kirk's watchfulness. He must sleep soon, and the instant his vigilance was relaxed, Spock would be gone.
McCoy met Sarek at the door to sickbay.
"If you permit it, I will come with you."
Sarek inclined his head gravely. As they walked along the corridor he waited for yet another appeal from the surgeon; somewhat to his surprise, it was not forthcoming. Only when they stopped at the door to Spock's quarters did the doctor break his silence.
"Sarek, while you are deciding what to do, here's one more thing for you to consider. When I found Jim down on Marnon, he thought that Spock was dead; I was only just in time to stop him blowing his brains out."
Satisfied that he had Sarek's full and somewhat startled attention, McCoy went on bitterly, "That bloody mind link! It's going to be hard enough losing Spock, but this...! They're linked now, even though Spock won't respond, and when he dies, God alone knows what will happen to Jim! It's not one life I'm fighting for back there, but two. How does that square with your Vulcan reverence for life?"
Favouring Sarek with a long stare from those incredibly blue eyes McCoy turned on his heel and left. Sarek watched him go before he entered his son's quarters.
It was as he had anticipated. Spock's preparations had been thorough, methodical, Vulcan; he had expected no less. On the desk lay his formal declaration of intent to take his own life, the cold, traditional phrases written with a steady hand. A neat pile of envelopes contained his personal farewells; to his mother, to Sarek himself, to Captain Kirk, to Dr. McCoy. Sarek touched the last two curiously, wondering what his son could have found to say at such a time to these so-emotional Humans. Not even to himself would he have admitted that he was delaying as long as possible the moment when he would have to open the envelope that bore his own name.
At last he unfolded the letter. He was not quite sure what he had expected, Vulcan formality or Human emotion; like his son, it was a blend of both. Quietly, simply, Spock explained his action, offering no excuses, attaching no blame, accepting the situation as he saw it. His farewell to his father was touched lightly with affection, deeply with respect. As he read his son's words, Sarek felt a sudden fierce pride. He recalled the words Kirk had hurled at him.
'Human or Vulcan... he is both!'
For the first time Sarek understood that what he had feared might be a weakness in Spock had become in fact his greatest strength. He possessed indeed his mother's warm humanity, but tempered by his father's teaching he was free from all the baser Human motives; his simple, transparent goodness shone out in every word. Now Sarek could admit that perhaps he had been wrong; he must consider carefully.
The Starship seemed to hang suspended in time and space. The entire crew had returned now, and wandered the corridors aimlessly, getting in the way of the maintenance staff. From the bridge personnel down to the rawest crewman they hung about the rec. rooms, gathering in small groups, talking, reforming, waiting, endlessly waiting. Still no word from sickbay - it was strange how unreal the ship seemed without that quiet presence on the bridge.
At Spock's bedside Kirk and McCoy still waited. The world had contracted to that pale face, to the barely-flickering glow of the life indicators. McCoy glanced at the Captain; Jim could not hold on much longer - he was plainly exhausted, kept going only by a will-power that in its way was as great as the Vulcan's. He had often wondered idly which of them had the stronger will - now it seemed he was about to find out. It was a battle neither could win. If Spock died, McCoy knew without doubt Jim would surely follow; yet if Kirk succeeded, and somehow drew Spock back, the original problem would remain - Spock would still be faced with that impossible decision. If only he could help...
He looked up as the door opened and Sarek returned. Jim followed his gaze absently - he had forbidden himself to hope for any help from that quarter. This time, as Sarek approached, he did not move away, and the Vulcan saw with no surprise that his son now rested in the Captain's arms. The hazel eyes surveyed him with an unnatural, hopeless calm, and Sarek felt an unaccustomed guilt that Kirk had carried this burden for so long. It was that guilt that lent an unusual gentleness to his voice as he said,
"Captain, I have considered your words very carefully, and although I have no right to interfere with Spock's decision, I am prepared to do so. However, I must warn you that there is no guarantee that I will succeed. Spock's suicide seemed to him a logical solution - even if I succeed in reaching him, I do not know if I can persuade him to reconsider."
Renewed hope flared in Kirk's eyes. "If there's any chance, any chance at all, we must try. Please, do what you can."
He relinquished his hold and stood up, his hands lingering for a moment on Spock's shoulders before he stepped away from the bed. Taking his place, Sarek reached for his son's mind, and was astounded at the resistance he encountered; he had not thought that Spock's defences were so strong - nothing he could do broke through his guard.
His eyes moved to the indicators over the bed; they had dropped alarmingly in the short time since Kirk had released his hold - obviously the Captain's presence made a difference. Was it possible, Sarek wondered, that Kirk could succeed where he had failed? Not alone, of course, his mind was not strong enough, but perhaps with help...
Sarek beckoned McCoy aside. "Doctor, I have failed to break Spock's defences - his mind is shielded from me; the Captain must try to reach his Human side. A Vulcan can be turned from suicide if he is given a logical reason, but we have none to offer - we must rely on emotion. You know more than I about such things - have you any suggestions?"
McCoy thought for a moment, then answered slowly. "Perhaps if he could be made to realise how his death will affect Jim - I told you what happened when I found them - if he knew for certain that his death would mean Jim's, it would bring him back, I'm sure."
"We must try it, then. I will lend my power to the Captain's mind, and let him make the link; if you will recall for me how you felt then, I will draw on your memory, and using the Captain's mind as a channel, present the image to Spock. If he reacts as you believe, he will enter a healing trance, and the danger will be over."
McCoy nodded his understanding, and moved to stand beside Sarek, who explained to Kirk what he intended to do.
"I am aware, Captain, that you have some experience of the mind link; reach for it as you would normally do, and I will supply the power your mind lacks. Are you ready?"
Kirk's lips were white, but his hands were steady as he laid them on Spock's face.
This time, it was easier; his own wistful appeal, strengthened by Sarek's power, enabled him to slip through Spock's defences, deep into his mind.
Spock, answer me, please.
Jim, you should not have done this; it is too late. Leave me.
I cannot. I... need you.
Sarek had been waiting until Spock's attention was fully occupied with Kirk's presence in his mind. While he waited he had been drawing on McCoy's memory and emotions; now he linked them to Kirk's, and with irresistible force sent the image crashing into Spock's unprotected brain. Jim's grief and desolation, McCoy's agony of mind, were shown to him in all their naked cruelty. Most horrifying of all, he was forced to see that despite the barriers Spock had thought sufficient to protect him, Jim too had been trapped by his conviction that only death would release him from his conflict. The link had gone deeper than either had realised; he saw through McCoy's eyes Jim's attempt on his own life, and understood at last that for his friend's sake he must live - Jim's sanity, if not his life, would not survive the severance of the link. The shock of comprehension was devastating. Spock's cry of anguish snapped the contact instantly; Kirk would have fallen but for McCoy's arm around him, and even Sarek staggered and had to clutch the bed for support.
After that one convulsive shudder Spock again lay unmoving. McCoy helped Kirk to sit on the next bed, then turned back to his patient. He worked busily for a moment, then glanced across at Sarek.
"The healing trance?" he questioned.
"Yes. The Captain has succeeded. Spock will awaken in a few hours. Now, if you will forgive me, I would like to rest."
"Yes, of course. Nurse Chapel! Oh, there you are. Please conduct Ambassador Sarek to the guest quarters. I'll see you later, sir. By the way, Nurse, tell the crew there's no word of Mr. Spock yet - we'll see how he is when he comes round. Jim, I want you in bed - now!"
McCoy was back in top form, issuing orders, comments, instructions on all sides. Within a very short time he had Kirk sedated and asleep; sickbay was very quiet now, and peaceful after the tension of the last few hours. McCoy sat down, his watchful gaze moving between his two sleeping patients. He was still uneasy about what would happen when Spock awoke, but for the moment it was enough that he had decided to live.
PART IV - ULTIMATUM WITHDRAWN
"I said no, Ambassador, and I meant no!" McCoy's blue eyes flashed dangerously as he faced Sarek across the desk in his office. "You will be informed when Spock is well enough to be visited. I'm still in charge here, and I won't have my patients... " He broke off as the intercom sounded. "McCoy here. Yes, Nurse?" He listened for a moment.. "I'll be right there. Excuse me, sir; I won't be long." Nodding abruptly to Sarek he left the office.
After a moment the Vulcan rose and moved to the door; it was slightly ajar, and he could see directly into sickbay. Spock's bed was clearly visible from this position. As he had expected, his son was not alone; Kirk sat with him. Each held the other's face between his hands - obviously their minds were closely linked. Sarek could not bring himself to interrupt that silent communion - indeed, he should not have been witnessing it at all - but he had a decision to make. The question of Spock's future still had to be resolved. He wanted his son to return to Vulcan, but he had now seen for himself the depth of their commitment to each other's interests; he had not thought that so close a link was possible with a Human. He had learned enough to realise that to insist on Spock's obedience would destroy not only his son, but Kirk too - so strong a link could not easily be broken.
As he watched the two men drew apart, their hands resting now on each other's shoulders. Their eyes met, and held; after a moment Spock` said very quietly,
"You understand now, Jim?"
"Yes. There's... no way to say it, is there?"
"Only in our thoughts."
"What will you do now?"
A faint sigh, that scarcely reached the unseen listener. "I must go back... to Vulcan. I can't fight any more, Jim; Sarek is... too strong, and I am... Vulcan, after all. The marriage... I will do as best I can." Then, urgently, "But you must live, Jim. Promise me."
"I will, somehow. At least I'll know that you're alive."
"Congratulations, Sarek. You've broken him at last - quite an achievement, isn't it?"
The Vulcan turned to meet McCoy's accusing stare. "Yes, you've won. But tell me, is it worth it? I don't know who you'll take back to Vulcan, but it won't be the Spock we all know and - yes - love. You'll have your Vulcan son at last, but you'll have to forgive me if I mourn for the man you've destroyed. Then there's Jim - oh yes, he'll survive - but he'll be different too. I think I prefer him as he was."
Sarek had intended to protest, to deny the doctor's words, but he could not - they were true. The Spock who returned with him to Vulcan would not be the same man who had written that letter he had read such a short time ago. To survive the future Sarek had planned for him, Spock would have to kill his Human side, finally and completely - it would not be an easy death. He thought of Amanda - what had he been about to do to her, and to the son she had given him? He was fiercely proud of his son - he could admit that now to himself, if to no-one else - yet had been prepared to destroy him, to force him to conform to an artificial ideal. For a moment he visualised a totally Vulcan Spock, and knew that he had deceived himself - he wanted his son as he was.
That knowledge enabled him to meet McCoy's eyes. "You are right, Doctor. Will you permit me to speak to Spock now? I should be glad of your presence - both you and Captain Kirk should hear what I have to say."
McCoy searched his face, then pushed open the door. As their footsteps came closer,. the two men looked up; slowly Kirk reached out and laid a reassuring hand on Spock's arm. The gesture was not lost on Sarek. He spoke quickly.
"I ask forgiveness, Spock. I find that I have made a grave error of judgement."
Hope flamed in the hazel eyes; fearful of betraying emotion, the dark eyes were quickly veiled.
"It is not easy to admit to a mistake - I have made one. I sought to make you something you are not. Captain, you spoke the truth - I valued Spock's humanity, yet almost destroyed it. You are free from all pressures, Spock. It is my wish now that you select your own way in life. T'Pau must learn, as I have learned, that you are not to be judged by wholly Vulcan standards. If you decide to return to Vulcan, you will be welcome; if you prefer to remain with Starfleet, you have my permission, and my blessing. It may sound strange to you, Spock, but in this matter, choose as your heart directs you."
There was no need to ask for Spock's decision in words; the quiet joy in the dark eyes said all.
"I am content. Now I must return to Vulcan. Live long, my son - and prosper."
As he turned to go, two hands detained him.
"Thank you, father."
Sarek inclined his head, and turned to Kirk.
"Sarek... thank you... for everything."
The Vulcan hesitated, then lightly touched the hand that lay on his sleeve,
"Goodbye, Captain. I... wish you well. Doctor, perhaps you will accompany me to the transporter?"
Somehow the news had already spread through the ship. As he walked the corridors with McCoy, Sarek could sense the overwhelming joy and gratitude from the Humans he passed. He could understand now the position Spock held in the hearts of the crew - they had instinctively felt what it had taken him so long to see, Spock's unique and very personal goodness and honesty.
In the transporter room he exchanged farewells with McCoy.
"Goodbye, Ambassador. And from all of us... thank you."
"I should thank you, Doctor. You have enabled me to correct the wrong I did my son. Farewell."
As the shimmer of the transporter died away, McCoy turned back towards sickbay. Like Sarek, he too had finally come to realise what the existence of the link meant for Kirk and Spock. It was at once hazard and safeguard, danger and security, rendering them vulnerable, yet granting to both these lonely men the sanctuary of each other's mind where fear, loneliness and pain would be quietly met and healed.
The price of such a friendship was high - few would be prepared to pay it - but they had considered the risks worth while, knowing the value of the unity they shared. And in his heart, McCoy could only approve their choice.