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I Can't Help (Falling In Love With You)

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He valued the rising of the Vulcan sun more than any part of his morning routine. Spock’s eyes opened under the gentle ministrations of the sun’s rays, his room lighting slowly but surely with warm tones. He sat up in his large bed, cast the few covers off, neatly made his bed, then stepped into the sonic shower. In 60.49 seconds, he emerged naked. The orange and red tint on his skin warmed him, welcomed him to the coming day. Spock found his meditation robes and dressed quickly, then slipped onto his knees on a mat in one corner of his room, intent on meditating for an hour or two before breakfast. Then he would get on with his day.

He was interrupted by knocking at his door. He knew who it was before they announced themselves: his mother, Lady Amanda, was the only person who didn’t use the buzzer. She said she liked the way knocking sounded, that it reminded her of her home growing up on Earth in a place called New Hampshire. Although quite illogical, Spock thought he could understand the sentimental attachment she felt to something as simple as a mere sound. He was, after all, half-human.

Instead of simply calling out for her to enter, as he usually did, Spock rose from his kneeling position to open the door for his mother.

“Good morning, dearest,” his mother said as she stepped through. She wore a vibrant blue headscarf, keeping her ears hidden and her hair covered. Lady Amanda, usually wearing a smile, now looked uneasy and did not meet Spock’s eyes.

Spock cocked his head and said, “Mother? Are you well?”

“Quite,” she assured him. “I just wondered when you would come down to breakfast?”

“I shall eat in an hour, as is usually my custom. Are you sure you are well?”

“I’m fine, Spock. Your father and I would like you to eat with us this morning.”

“Fine,” said Spock slowly, “is subjective and no use at all in defining an objective sense of well-being or health.”

“Yes, yes,” Lady Amanda said, her eyes finally meeting Spock’s. “I know, you and your father have said so many times. Will you come down with me and join us to eat?”

“I shall,” Spock said after a moment’s hesitation. He offered her his arm and was treated to one of his mother’s beaming smiles as they walked side-by-side downstairs to the grand dining room. Two maids were already present, attending to Ambassador Sarek and his breakfast. They laid bowls of oatmeal and plates of fruit in front of Lady Amanda and Spock, and then slipped back to watch for when they would be needed next.

Spock nodded to his father as he began eating. It was unusual for his parents to request his presence when they ate, as their differing duties tended to keep them busy and apart. As Ambassadors to the Federation - more specifically, Terra - for Vulcan, Sarek and Amanda continuously traveled back and forth from Vulcan to Terra and were not present to eat with Spock 87.93% of the time. Perhaps, he mused, this breakfast was to “make up” for the time they had not spent together, as Amanda sometimes insisted on doing.
However, it was Sarek, not Amanda, who cleared his throat and spoke first. Spock’s eyebrow hitched up a fraction of an inch.

“My son, what are your duties this day?” his father asked.

“I shall meditate,” Spock said, lowering his spoon, “and then join the Vol Dur for training. I have begun my work with them in the last two lunar cycles, and will be stationed at the Vulcan High Council for the next two weeks. After training, I shall continue my research on the effects of geomagnetic vibrations on dulki crystals, as requested by Federation Science Officer Lang.”

Sarek simply nodded slowly. His eyes pierced into Spock’s. It seemed he was trying to find something in Spock’s gaze, something he would not be able to find out by just asking. His son, half-Vulcan and half-human, was something - someone - that still presented somewhat of a mystery to him. While he had pursued a rigorous Vulcan upbringing, sometimes even more fervently than pure-blooded Vulcans, Spock was still emotional, still struggled to maintain shields of mental control under duress, still strove to annihilate his humanity.

“I have spoken with Sokon,” Sarek began. “Your duties among the Vol Dur, while appreciated, have been terminated.”

Spock froze, every muscle tensed as if to spring. “Father?” he asked softly, his gaze fixed on Sarek.

“It is no fault of your own, my son, but is driven by necessity - a necessity for Vulcan.”

Amanda cleared her throat and spoke. “Spock, do you recall when I told you of our last trip to Terra? How the royal family there spoke of their desire to align themselves with us, with Vulcan, more… permanently?”

“I have an eidetic memory, Mother,” Spock said. His gaze had not left Sarek’s. They stared each other down from opposite sides of the table.

Amanda sighed. “They proposed a marriage between their oldest son, Prince George, and one of our people, to solidify our union, as the two strongest planets included in the Federation, as well as the oldest members.”

“Ah,” Spock said.

“T’Pau suggested you immediately, no doubt because she knows what a wonderful and honorable young man you’ve become, and how dedicated you are to Vulcan -”

“T’Pau suggested me because I am half-human myself, and this arrangement would cause the least shock to Vulcan culture and hierarchy,” Spock said flatly. He finally dropped his eyes to the plate in front of him.

Amanda pursed her lips but didn’t answer. Sarek simply inclined his head.

Silence reigned around the table. The maids had turned to stone behind the family.

“Spock,” Amanda whispered, reaching her hand toward her son’s arm. “We have not agreed to anything just yet. It is your decision, my son, although… although it would be beneficial for Vulcan if you agreed.”

“Agreed,” Spock repeated, although he heard her perfectly well. Amanda’s hand slipped from his arm. There was silence once more. Sarek ate his oatmeal, outwardly collected and unaffected by the conversation.

“I have not met this Prince George,” Spock said finally, struggling to keep his face neutral in the face of such destabilizing news. “How do you know if we will be compatible?”

“We are not asking you to bond,” Sarek said. “Only to join in human marriage. Besides, you will not be marrying Prince George. We have received word only yesterday that he is… what is the word?” he asked Amanda.

“Engaged,” she offered.

“Indeed. Engaged to another. So you would be joined in human marriage to the second brother, Prince James.”

“Neither do I know Prince James,” Spock interrupted. He felt anger rising in his chest, constricting his throat, and struggled against the wave of emotion that threatened to overcome him. “I do not understand why I was not informed of these plans earlier.”

“Oh, Spock, we wanted to tell you,” Amanda said, shooting a look to Sarek that indicated she, at least, had wanted to tell him. “But as with most arranged marriages, we had to speak first with T’Pau and the Council to ensure a wise decision was being made. We didn’t want you to be disappointed either way if things didn’t work out. We only just received confirmation that the Terran royal family wishes to make this union a reality. Prince James has agreed to it,” she said hopefully, as if that would make Spock excited.

Spock closed his eyes. The oatmeal he’d already eaten felt like lead in his stomach. “I must meditate,” he said presently, getting up from the table abruptly.

“I shall send all relevant information to your padd,” Sarek said solemnly as Spock walked out of the dining room.

As he settled in for the second time to his favored meditation spot, Spock fumed and attempted to remain logical and cool and impassive. He lit the incense, closed his eyes, breathed deeply, went through the steps that usually delivered him to the sweet, subconscious reality of his own mind - but to no avail. He could not see past his anger, could not move beyond the word “marriage” seemingly branded into the backs of his eyelids.

Frustrated, Spock opened his eyes when his padd dinged. It must be the “relevant information” his father said he would send him. With an uncharacteristic huff of breath, Spock rose, took up his padd, and sat down at his desk.

Scrolling through the document took longer than he’d imagined it would. Sarek had included much information that, as far as Spock could see, may be categorized as “superfluous” rather than “relevant.” Even so, he was forced to acknowledge that any information, regardless of how incidental, was most likely beneficial to him as Spock had no former knowledge of Prince James.

There was a short biography of him in a document, listing his birthdate - stardate 2233.322 - along with his family’s information - Winona Kirk, mother, deceased; George Kirk, father, living; George “Sam” Kirk, living - and his schooling. There were several academic papers he had published through the Terran Starfleet Academy. Spock’s eyebrow raised at the titles: Myth and Monster: Legends of Galactic Importance; Story as Religion: A Study in Gorn Mythopoetic Tradition; and Love in Starlight, or, Shakespeare’s Relationship to the Galaxy. Spock’s other eyebrow rose to meet its brother at the other articles included in the data his father sent. Several pages of small blocks of words next to large, grainy pictures of someone, presumably Prince James, included headlines like “Steamy Night: Prince James Spends the Evening with ‘Good Friend’?” and “Bed Head Makes Appearance at Family Brunch,” and, “NEW Tell-All: ‘My Hook-Up With the Prince!’”

Finally, there were a few pictures of the prince. Spock called them up on the holoprojector and sat back in his chair to look at them, fingers steepled under his chin. The first was a professional headshot, dated only a few months ago, with Prince James looking straight at the viewer, a bright smile on his face. His eyes were a dazzling blue, sparkling with a holographic buzz. His hair was yellow. Maybe golden, Spock reflected, golden like the hills of Shi’kahr under the sun’s rising rays. It was cut short along the sides, but was a little longer on the top, giving the impression of curls lurking near the tips, just waiting to be grown out so they could run wild on his forehead.

The prince had a faint scar running down the side of his neck. Pale and rakish, it looked out of pace with the handsome monarch the viewer first saw. Though - now that Spock was looking closer - perhaps it was not as aberrant as originally thought. His nose crooked to the left by 6.21 degrees. Two front teeth were whiter than the others. Taken together, Spock concluded, perhaps the human prince was not as vain or spoiled as he had originally thought. He had marks of a warrior, etched into his skin by the fists of enemies past. Still, there was some lurking thought in his eyes. They emoted even from the still 3-dimensional image, trying to convey something to Spock which he could not name. He felt an ache in his side as he tried to find the right word - melancholy? Sorrow? Despair? Truth be told, Spock was not sure what to make of this man. All he knew was that he was a beautiful puzzle, the sum more bizarre and enchanting than the parts.

Spock blinked. Where had that thought come from? When he was finished looking through the data his father sent, he decided, he would meditate - “come hell or high water,” as his mother said.

The next picture was a candid shot. Prince James was walking toward the camera, yet at a slight angle to it. He was looking off in the distance, and he was running his fingers through his hair. Spock could still see those blue eyes glinting in the somewhat blurry frame, the hint of a smile on his lips. The human prince was wearing a gray uniform. He looked - well, very nice, Spock had to admit to himself. Trim, athletic, professional. Spock pursed his lips and went on to the next picture.

Prince James was once again in the middle of the shot, but this time there were others around him. To his left, a larger, older man wearing a black suit. To his right, a man who looked slightly older yet startlingly similar to the prince, also donning a black suit. Prince James, Spock noted, was wearing a dark charcoal suit but no tie. His hair was a little longer in this picture - and yes, there were those curls, tumbling over his hairline and onto his forehead. All three men looked somber, deep in discussion. Spock checked the notes on this particular photo. Taken three months ago at a Federation gathering, it was a picture of King George, Prince James, and Prince George walking into a meeting of Federation races. Spock’s eyes narrowed. He wondered if that particular meeting was where his parents decided to pawn him off on the Terrans.

He shut the holoprojector down and stared out the window. The sun shone directly on the craggy cliffs miles away, giving Spock’s room a mild, rosy glow. With a slight pang, he wondered if he would ever see Vulcan again once he married the human prince. Before it could become a full-fledged thought, however, he quelled the spark of emotion and straightened his spine. After meditation, he determined, his mind would be at peace, and he would know what to do.

But he didn’t. Even after three hours of meditation, Spock’s internal balance still felt off-kilter, like he wasn’t sure how gravity worked anymore. He grit his teeth and threw himself into his work. In research, there were no moral qualms, no personal pitfalls. Science did not care one way or another, even about certain outcomes of experimentation. Spock had craved all his life to embody that impassivity, that detached logical perspective which allowed for - no, drove scientific discovery. Due to what many on Vulcan considered his faulty parentage, though, Spock’s quest for perfection failed.

Over the next few days, Spock meditated on the topic of marriage to Prince James - the consequences, positive and negative, the benefits, the drawbacks, the potential disasters, both political and personal. His parents had been called to the Vulcan High Council - where Spock should have been with the Vol Dur, he thought bitterly - and their absence was, frankly, a relief.

Still, they had to come back someday. And when Lady Amanda walked into the library to find a book after returning home from the Council, she was pleased to find that Spock had fallen into deep thought in one of the overstuffed chairs by a window and had not hidden himself away in his rooms. She cleared her throat gently to get his attention. One ear twitched at the sound, a quirk of Vulcan hearing that the human Ambassador had fallen in love with almost immediately upon meeting Sarek.

“Mother,” Spock acknowledged as he rose from the chair. “My apologies; I did not know you had returned home. I shall retire to leave you space in the library.” He bowed stiffly and would have walked out, but Amanda held his arm, careful not to touch his skin.

“My son, are you well?” she asked.

Spock cocked his head and said calmly, “I am in good health, Mother. And you?”

“I am worried about you,” Amanda admitted, still holding onto his arm. Her hand trembled despite the years of discipline under her skin to keep herself still. “I have not stopped thinking about you - how you reacted, that is, since your father and I left for the Council. Have you… have you been able to meditate on what we discussed?”

“To what discussion are you referring, Mother?” Spock asked, coolly withdrawing his arm from his mother’s grasp. “The one regarding my ignorance at my upcoming nuptials?”

Amanda’s face fell. Spock immediately regretted being so harsh with her. He softened his eyes and said quietly, “Yes, Mother, I have meditated on it.”

“And what do you think? Spock, I know your father said that your position with the Vol Dur was terminated already, but if you truly do not wish to be wed to Prince James, I am sure Sokon will gladly put you back on duty.”

“To do so would be illogical,” Spock said brusquely, not looking at Amanda. “I would better serve Vulcan by marrying Prince James, not wasting my life in the Vol Dur.”

“Wasting…?” Amanda wished more than ever that she had telepathic abilities like her son’s and her husband’s. Although Vulcans never lied (as both of them had told her so often) they often obscured the truth between their words, and could leave their listener with more confused after being asked even the most direct question.

“So you wish to marry Prince James?” she asked slowly after a few moments.

Spock finally looked at her, and she hated that look. His face was a shuttered mask that kept her out.

“I do not desire it,” he said, “especially given that bonding with a mate would be out of the question were I to human-marry Prince James. However, as T’Pau and my father have theorized, my half-Vulcan status most likely precludes my ability to bond with any Vulcan regardless, and my time may never occur. Therefore, it is logical that I marry Prince James and serve Vulcan and the Federation by allegorically uniting the two peoples more strongly than before.”

“Spock, I did not ask you what you thought, logically,” Amanda said. “If you do not desire this, then I’ll go to T’Pau and ask her to choose someone else.”

“Illogical, Mother. T’Pau has made her decision. There is a 4.129% chance that she will change her mind. It is also my decision to make, regardless of desire; and my decision is to marry the prince.”

Amanda studied her son’s face closely. Still closed off, Spock’s eyes held the slightest hint of sadness - or perhaps she was projecting. Even though T’Pau and Selak, a healer, had determined that Spock’s mind was incompatible with T’Pring’s once the young woman challenged their bond, Amanda still held onto the hope that Spock would be able to bond with someone else when the time came. She knew that secretly, Spock wished so too. To marry a human with no chance of bonding, a tradition and a practice treasured deeply by Vulcans, would force her son into the kind of loneliness very few of his people knew. Of course he would always have familial bonds with herself and Sarek, but it just wasn’t the same.

She exhaled shakily and took a half-step away from Spock. Amanda looked at the floor and said softly, “As you wish, my son.”

Shortly after word was sent from the House of Sarek to the Terran monarchy, a human delegation was sent to Vulcan, and a Vulcan delegation to Terra. Their purposes were to educate both parties on their respective betrothed’s culture and background. Fortunately for Spock, human culture was readily available for study, and he found that, though confusing and often irrational, it was vaguely similar to Vulcan’s. Humans seemed to value courage, intellect, pride, freedom, and creativity. They also seemed to worship at the altar of emotion, which at turns baffled and disgusted Spock. If he had not seen firsthand humans’ warp capabilities and their starships, he would have found it improbable that, as a species, they had made such incredible scientific advancements.

While he studied human culture as a whole, Spock also found himself studying closely whatever he could find on Prince James. While illogical, as he had made his decision and would stand by it regardless of what he discovered, he found that the picture these studies made of the human prince were, at best, fuzzy. He was a lecturer at the Terran capitol’s Starfleet Academy, teaching on such various subjects as Literature and entry-level Engineering courses. He also published articles almost quarterly, mostly on the subject of literature. Spock had read every one, startled to find that while the titles had a flair for the dramatic, the prince’s words could at turns clinically slice open any piece of art and extract meaning from it and poetically dance through the content as skillfully as any ballet.

However, what Spock mostly found was that his intended was an intensely private person. While the human press seemed to focus on the prince’s sexual exploits, the Vulcan could not find much else outside of his work at the Academy or his family’s diplomatic pursuits. Perhaps the marriage would not be as hopelessly alien as he had originally resigned himself to.

 

The day finally dawned when they left for Terra. Spock had stubbornly refused to allow I-Chaya to stay behind, even going so far as to draft a formal letter to Prince James to request the pet’s presence in the palace. Upon hearing about the drafted complaint, Sarek relented and allowed I-Chaya to be boarded along with the luggage. Amanda would never admit how humorous she found the glint of smug satisfaction in her son’s eyes as he passed by his father to board the starship.

Their voyage was 2.56 Vulcan days long, and 4.1 Terran days. Spock kept himself busy with meditation and writing up his research report for Science Officer Lang. He declined to speak with Amanda about the upcoming marriage, though she often approached him about it.

“Spock, if anyone knows what you’re about to walk into, it’s me,” she said, trying to state her case logically. “You must have some questions, or be at least curious about some aspects of a human marriage?”

“There is nothing in my way that I would ‘walk into,’ Mother. And I have researched human marriage ceremonies and traditions for 70.85 hours already. I believe my queries have been satisfied.”

“Seventy hours? God help that poor Prince,” Amanda sighed. Spock simply raised an eyebrow at her.

When the starship began its orbit around Terra and the three of them boarded the shuttle to take them to the surface, Spock did admit to himself that he felt… well, anxious. For as much research as he had done, he still did not know that much about his betrothed, apart from his appearance from a handful of pictures, some academic articles he wrote, and a dozen or so salacious stories.

He opted to wear one of his more traditional robes, soft black with Golic script embroidered on the hems and a high collar with gold trim. His mother beamed at him when he appeared on the shuttle and fussed with his clothing.

“You look so handsome, darling,” she said, and her eyes were full of tears.

Spock tilted his head and gently wiped a fallen tear from her cheek. “You are upset?” he asked, confused.

“No, proud,” she answered, and he wondered if marrying a human was worth it for the good of Vulcan.

The descent into Terra’s atmosphere left Spock wishing he hadn’t eaten right before they left, but they landed safely in the palace’s shuttle bay only 12.4 minutes later. On the way down, Spock marveled out the window at the amount of color and vibrant life he saw. To his left was the ocean, sparkling golden-white in the sun, and the Golden Gate Bridge - a misnomer, as it was, in fact, red. To his right was a sprawling metropolis, and beyond, green hills and vistas of golden crops and mountains of purple and blue. It dazzled Spock’s eyes, and with the same pang he felt only a week ago, he wondered if he would see Vulcan’s harsh and beautiful deserts and cliffs again one day.

Docked in the bay, the shuttle purred. Sarek glanced at Spock before exiting the craft, and Amanda would have sworn that her husband’s eyes softened incrementally.

Instead of speaking, Sarek nodded at his son and extended an arm to his wife. They exited together.

Spock’s eyes were drawn to a cluster of people in the bay, wearing bright ceremonial clothing and fixed smiles. He schooled his features into a neutral expression, hoping not to betray his thoughts.

Prince James stood to the right of Prince and King George. Their genetic link was easy to spot: all three had thick, golden hair, chiseled jawlines, and full lips. The princes both had prominent cheekbones, and Prince James’ were flushed pink.

He had, in fact, just seen Spock for the very first time, as no pictures of the Vulcan were available - no alien press to worry about, he supposed - and the human was completely blindsided by how handsome his intended was. Jim had imagined that the Vulcan Council would send their least wanted to Terra for the marriage, a throwaway husband for a throwaway prince. It seemed he was wrong, and he felt a sudden shudder of guilt that this beautiful man would have to suffer through a lifetime of marriage to him just for the diplomacy of it all. Not for the first time did Jim bitterly regret that his mother died when he was young. She could have surely figured out a different solution, saved this Vulcan from having to do what must be done for the Federation and their peoples.

Meanwhile, the Vulcan retinue came to a stop in front of their human counterparts. The Terran royal family lifted a ta’al to the Ambassadors, and King George welcomed them with a hearty and, in Spock’s opinion, much too loud greeting.

“Peace and long life,” Sarek returned politely. “King George, you have met my wife, Lady Amanda.”

“Lady Amanda,” the King said with a smile. “Welcome back to Terra.”

“It’s an honor, Your Majesty,” she returned. Then, “And this is our son, S’chn T’gai Spock.”

Spock’s spine straightened under the King’s scrutiny.

“Ah,” he said, “this is the young man to marry my Jim! Welcome, Spock. We are glad to receive you on Terra. This is my firstborn son, Prince George,” he nodded to the older prince, who lifted a polite ta’al, “and this is your betrothed, Prince James. We call him Jim,” he said, winking at Spock.

Jim blushed again and lifted a ta’al, a mirror to Spock’s. “Hello,” he said.

“Prince James,” Spock nodded, returning the ta’al.

“Come, come,” King George said, ushering the Vulcan group toward a large envoy of heavy hovercars. “Your things will be beamed down to the palace momentarily. We’ll get you settled and then celebrate your arrival with a feast!”

Spock worried momentarily that he would have to make small talk with Prince James on the way to the palace, but was relieved to find that he, his father, his mother, and two of their Vol Dur body guards were placed in one vehicle, while the Terran royals were placed in another.

The ride was short, and they were shown to their rooms. Spock was grateful to find that I-Chaya, along with the rest of his luggage, had already been placed in his room. He buried his face in the bear’s side, feeling the purring of his rib cage and a warm affection for him soothe his mind. The prince had seemed… subdued. Not at all what Spock had assumed. Though, to be fair, he thought, he wasn’t exactly sure what he had expected out of Prince James. There were simply too few data points, and those that were available were simply too contradictory. He realized with a sudden unexplained feeling - something akin to curiosity - that he would have to find out who the prince was for himself.

From the source.

I-Chaya huffed and licked at Spock’s face, his rough tongue catching Spock’s ear and leaving a trail of saliva in its wake. He made a very un-Vulcan face at the pet and muttered a string of half-hearted curses as he made his way to the bathroom to clean up for the banquet.

Jim, on the other hand, was far less peaceful. He paced the length of his room for the fifth time and ran his hand through his hair once again.

“Relax, please,” his brother begged from the bed where he sat. “Seriously, you’re going to pull all your hair out if you keep tugging at it like that.”

“That would be the least of my worries,” Jim huffed, glaring. “Sam, you’re not taking this seriously.”

“I am taking this seriously,” Sam replied, his eyes wide. “You’re nervous, it’s fine. I was nervous when I proposed to Tela. It’s normal.”

“But I’m not proposing, I’m - we’re already engaged, I’ve already proposed, I just don’t know him. I don’t know the guy I’m supposed to marry. Doesn’t this seem pretty fuckin’ backwards? Archaic?”

“Well yeah, but you’re the one who agreed to do it.”

“Because you proposed to your girlfriend to get out of it,” Jim pointed out.

Sam shrugged, not arguing the point. They’d already fought about this at least a dozen times, and he had no energy to rehash what seemed to him a meaningless debate.

“I think you need to talk to him,” Sam said, standing. “Just get to know him.”

“Get to - Sam, seriously?” Jim stared at his older brother. Sam ignored him and walked over to the enormous closet, throwing open the door with his usual carelessness.

“What’s the matter, Jimbo?”

“I hate that fucking name. You know that. I hate it. And seriously? Get to know him? What would someone like him want to do with someone like me?”

Sam shoved a suit on a hanger under Jim’s chin, eyeing him up and down. He put it back and sighed loudly - at the clothing or his words, Jim didn’t know.

“Someone like you? What does that even mean?” Sam’s tone was light, but his heart ached for Jim. “Someone who’s so fuckin’ smart Starfleet begs you to come back and teach just one more semester, pretty please, Your Highness? Someone whose good looks have the press in a tizzy just because you smiled one time? Someone who -”

“Who can’t pick a damn outfit for himself?” Jim finished.

“Exactly,” Sam said, plucking a deep gray suit from the closet and holding it up to his younger brother. “You’re a catch, Jim.”

“Yeah, but he’s… he’s the real deal, Sam,” Jim said softly, holding the suit. His fingers nervously worked at the arms. “I mean, he looks the part. He’s -”

“Just a guy,” Sam said, holding his brother at arm’s length. “He’s just a guy, Jim. And you two are getting married. It’ll probably be great! No, scratch that - it’ll definitely be great. You’ll be so happy and have all sorts of beautiful, pointy-eared babies, and dad will be so fuckin’ happy. It’ll be great, you’ll see."

Jim’s eyebrows furrowed together. “I think I missed that part of the Vulcan biology lessons,” he joked weakly. “Heart’s on their right side, uterus where their kidneys should be…”

“Jim,” Sam said, his voice serious. “I know you’re anxious. But he’s probably anxious too! You’re a catch,” he repeated, clapping Jim’s shoulder.

“Yeah, yeah,” Jim muttered, draping the suit over a nearby chair. Sam made his way to the door, but before he let himself out he said,

“Just… remember what I said. It’s all gonna be fine.”

Jim snorted, but his eyes softened and he threw a grateful look at his brother before he ducked out.

It was one thing to know in his head that he was going to get married to someone he hadn’t met before. It was another to actually see that person and know he was going to get married to him. And God, that was it, wasn’t it? He knew it was his problem - Jim was so used to the theoretical in his life and didn’t really need to think about the practical. That was taken care of for him. So when the rubber met the road, he felt unprepared. Jarred.

Taking a deep breath, Jim looked at himself in the mirror. He looked… fine, he guessed, in the suit. He had to admit that Sam knew what he was doing when he picked the color. It made his eyes shine bright. He straightened the collar of his shirt once, twice, then picked at the sleeves for a moment. He sighed and turned away from the mirror.

It couldn’t be that hard, could it? He’d rubbed elbows with dignitaries before. He could force himself to make small-talk, had memorized the turns of phrase and empty words that delighted the air-headed and the self-important. But even with that knowledge, Jim felt uneasy and unprepared. Spock fit none of those categories. He was just… Spock. He recognized the anxiety rising in him as he turned his thoughts over in his head. Jim wasn’t good with words like Sam was. He couldn’t just talk to anybody with ease, had wished for years that he could turn on the Kirk charm with the same simple confidence his dad had turned into an art form.

Jim shook his head to clear his mind. Maybe he needed to shift the parameters of his thinking. Maybe he didn’t need to think about Spock in terms of the dignitaries and royalties they’d hosted at the palace before. Maybe the Vulcan was more like one of his co-workers at Starfleet Academy, or one of the students in his classes. But even these paradigms fell flat before his mind’s eye. Jim knew, without knowing Spock, that he wasn’t like the rest. Spock didn’t think of himself more highly than he should, nor did he debase himself to vainly seek out the attention of those who did. Spock wouldn’t bow to hierarchy just because - and he certainly wouldn’t break the rules just because.

And even if Spock was just like Professor Ngoche or Cadet Chekhov or whoever else on campus - even then, Jim knew, he wouldn’t be able to measure up.

Jim was fucked. Metaphorically. Because Spock wouldn’t - whatever.

He wished, now more than ever, that he could handle his liquor like Bones could. He’d take two shots right now if he was able.

A rap at the door brought him back to the present moment.

“Your Highness?” a voice came from the other side. “It’s time.”

Jim exhaled. It’s time.

He walked down the hallway with the escort and the two guards always at his side. They turned a corner and Jim saw at the end, where the doors to the dining room stood open, Spock and his parents. He nearly tripped over himself, but the escort touched his arm and started talking.

“We’ll have you and Prince Spock walk in together. You’ll be seated at the end table, there, near the fireplace. Vulcans like warmer temperatures. I have you down for the duck platter, Your Majesty - is that correct? Would you care to walk in hand-in-hand, or linking arms, or…?”

The escort directed her comments to the both of them because at that point Jim and Spock were standing face-to-face again. The Vulcan had changed out of the robes he was wearing when they met and God, if he didn’t look even better now. His shiny black hair and pale skin were offset by a muted black robe, and Jim saw subtle gray patterns woven into the fabric. He felt inadequate, wanted to get out, had an excuse on the tip of his tongue, when he heard Spock’s mother - Amanda? - speak.

“If it pleases His Majesty, perhaps we can let them walk in together but not touching? Vulcans are touch telepaths,” she added, sparing a glance at Jim.

“Yes,” he blurted, then blushed an even deeper shade of red. Damn that trait from his mother’s family. Sam never blushed when he was embarrassed. “Yes, I - I remember that,” he said, stumbling over his words, trying to save himself. “It’s fine. If we walk in together. Not touching, I mean."

Spock eyed him curiously but kept his lips pursed together. Prince James seemed flushed. Was he drunk? Did he usually imbibe in spirits before such occasions? This was worrisome to the Vulcan, to say the least. Propriety may not be high on the list of attributes humans exalted, but certainly a Terran prince would be able to see its usefulness?

Only… no. Spock did not actually think he was drunk. As they walked in together, he could see that the younger man seemed sober, at least. His words were not slurred; his eyes not bloodshot; his gait was steady and straight. But Prince James did not look him in the eye, did not talk to him after their initial greeting at the doors to the dining room. Perhaps the human had agreed to the marriage without understanding the ramifications: they would have to speak at some point.

They were led to their seats, Jim across from Spock. Once there, Jim did his best to behave normally, but Spock could still see his fidgeting fingers, the furtive glances to and from the Vulcan. Thankfully for both of them, Sarek and Amanda were seated to their left, while King George and Prince George were seated to their right.

Jim felt a weight lift from his chest chest when Sam asked Spock about the trip and began the long, slow toil of conversation. He tried forcing himself to breathe deeply, attempting in vain to slow the racing of his heartbeat at the thought of actually talking to his fiancé. He wanted to laugh at himself, wanted to run away, wanted to be confident enough to flirt with the beautiful man sitting in front of him. He ended up listening intently to the conversation instead.

“And you, Prince George?” Spock was saying. “I had read the communique regarding Terran allyship to Tellurite on the way here. Did you find the negotiations amenable?”

“Amenable?” Sam laughed, and Jim wished - wished wished wished - that he could make himself sound as easygoing, as confident, as careless. “Yeah, the Tellurites wanted badly to join the Federation. Well, there were a few dissenting factions, but I’m sure they’ll see the logic in aligning themselves with us. If anything, I just showed up to sign papers and pose for holovids. Admiral Dao and Commander Forsythe both wanted to join, but unfortunately the Admiral had pressing matters to attend to back home.” He shrugged and sipped cherry wine. “It sure wouldn’t have happened without her, though.”

“Indeed, Admiral Dao is a formidable force,” Sarek acknowledged. “Prince James, have you had the opportunity to interact with Starfleet diplomatic missions as Prince George has?”

Jim almost choked on his duck before wiping his mouth with the cloth napkin on his lap. He felt rather than saw every eye on him.

“I, uh, no,” he said, his tongue stumbling over the words even as his mind formulated a brilliant response. “No, I - I tend to keep to Earth. Terra. I stay on the ground.” He winced.

“Jim is a brilliant professor, Ambassador,” he heard Sam say, and he shot him a grateful look. “He spends most of his time teaching at Starfleet Academy. He’s just published another paper, right, Jim?"

Jim opened his mouth but King George interrupted. “Yes, yes, he’s very smart,” he said dismissively. “But he won’t take any opportunities to move up, to teach any of the graduate courses. Says he only wants to teach the newbies, the freshmen who come in barely knowing how to write their own names!”

“I - I like the students I teach,” Jim said, feeling helpless, feeling like a little kid again.

He could feel Spock staring at him, and flushed a deep red. He must be embarrassed at having a fiancé who stayed stuck with the underclassmen. It wasn’t like he didn’t have the opportunities to move up. The Starfleet Board of Directors had come to him again and again to teach graduate courses - there was a distinct lack of qualified human professors of literature, engineering, and astrophysics, they insisted, and Prince Jim Kirk could fill all or more of these spots if he wanted. But with the faculty ratio so skewed - four humans to one alien professor - he didn’t feel comfortable taking a position so highly coveted by alien members of the Federation who actually wanted to teach those courses. And wasn’t that what the Federation was all about, anyway? Didn’t they encourage multicultural cooperation and intergalactic unity? It didn’t feel right to Jim that he was offered these positions. Even if he was as brilliant as they said - and he wasn’t, he knew, he just wasn’t as smart as other people said, and even Sam would someday realize what a fraud Jim Kirk was - they only offered them to him because of his royal status.

Even as these passionate arguments played out in his mind, he flushed deeply again and met Spock’s eyes. He couldn’t read them. They were contemplative, deep brown and flecked with a beautiful red-gold. Jim dropped his gaze and pressed his lips together.

“It is admirable to teach all who need an education,” Spock said solemnly. Sam cast Jim a quick look and agreed, then changed the subject. He knew how little Jim liked speaking on the subject with their father.

The evening passed slowly - too slowly, by Jim’s estimation. He could have sworn that the itinerary said the feast was scheduled for 1900 - 2300 hours, but honestly, years stretched between the impossibly rich courses pressed in front of him by smiling servants.

At some point, the tables were cleared and the floor was readied for dancing. Jim felt the panic rising again, and made an excuse to his conversation partner - some Andorian woman or other - to step outside for a breath of air. But he was stopped mid-stride as Spock glided up to him, impeccably graceful in each step. Jim felt his throat constrict.

“Prince James,” Spock greeted him. His voice was low and pleasant. He wasn’t quite sure the proper protocol when asking a fiance to dance, but he had refused to ask his mother, although she quite clearly wanted him to. She had poked him in the side - a habit he repeatedly requested she cease - and whispered that he should ask Jim to dance. He moved away almost immediately, to her immense satisfaction and supreme annoyance.

“Prince Spock,” Jim returned, his voice croaking. Damn.

Spock tilted his head slightly. “I am not a prince,” he said slowly, as if Jim was a small child who needed correction. “Though my father’s house is quite prominent on Vulcan, I have no formal title as you do, Prince James.”

“Ah,” Jim said eloquently.

There was a pause, awkward as they stared at each other. Spock cleared his throat and inclined his head to the dance floor.

“Would you care to dance with me? I believe the orchestra is playing the waltz,” he offered. Jim felt his anxiety spike and his eyes flicked over Spock’s shoulders to find Sam. He couldn’t see his older brother, and it only made his heart race faster.

“Yes,” Jim said, his mouth forming words without his mind’s consent.

Spock nodded and held his arm out for Jim to hold onto. Jim sucked in a breath and reached out.

When they stepped onto the dance floor, the couples around them parted respectfully to make room. Jim could feel their curious gazes sliding over and around them, and he wanted to scream. He rested his hand on Spock’s waist and was about to take his hand when he froze.

“Uh, do you want me to…?” he asked awkwardly. Spock’s eyes narrowed as he considered Jim’s hesitation for a moment, then relaxed as he sensed the human’s unasked question.

“If you would be so kind as to rest your hand on my wrist,” he said calmly, guiding Jim’s hand to where the cloth from his robe ended on his arm. Jim clutched at the fabric and forced himself to breathe.

Prince James relaxed slightly as they danced, his feet moving in their practiced order patiently as the music spun them around. He never looked Spock in the eye, but the Vulcan was becoming accustomed to this. Perhaps he simply needed time. Indeed, from the beginning of the dance to the end, Prince James transformed into a different person entirely. He melted into the dance, more comfortable moving than talking. He hummed along to the music, something that a human dance partner would not have been able to catch but which a Vulcan with keen hearing picked up. Spock, never one for small talk, was content with the lack of conversation. He could smell the sweat on the prince, the pheromones of anxiety and desire tickling his nostrils and confusing him deeply.

But it was not altogether… unpleasant, Spock supposed. Prince James smelled wonderful - a mix of old books and leather and the faint scent of grease from working on some old mechanical equipment. There was also an undercurrent of clean sweat and tones of something more personal: musky and sweet, like wood smoke or the sash-savas tea his mother made. Spock realized with a start that he had spent a majority of the dance categorizing his scents.

The prince didn’t notice. He was focused on the way Spock moved, graceful and intent in every shifting muscle. His feet were sure and his steps never faltered from the dance. Jim found himself subconsciously leaning into him. The practiced movements of the familiar waltz relaxed him. Here, at least, he knew what to do. And Spock didn’t once try to ask him about the dinner, or whether he knew many people here, or if he had an opinion on anything. It was… nice.

When the music stopped, Spock could feel Prince James’ body tense once more. They bowed to each other. Standing up, they finally made eye contact - blue meeting brown, serene puzzlement and anxious wondering colliding between them - and Jim made a quick excuse that he needed some air. He heard an Orion ambassador coyly ask Spock for a dance “because anyone who can move like that on the dance floor must move fantastically elsewhere.” He didn’t hear Spock’s response and honestly, why should he stick around to hear it? Of course Spock would want to be around someone who complimented him instead of stoically refused to make eye contact.

But after Spock turned down the Orion politely, he turned to ask Prince James for another dance and… couldn’t find him. Prince George materialized at his side with a beautiful young woman, and introduced them - Tela, his bride-to-be, met S’chn T’gai Spock, the future prince consort, with a breathless wonder that made the Vulcan uncomfortable.

“Where’s Jim gone to?” Prince George asked, looking around. “I saw you two dancing just a minute ago. He can’t have gone far.”

“He stated that he needed air. Is there not enough oxygen in this room for humans?” Spock inquired.

“No - I mean, yes, there is. It’s just Jim. He gets… nervous, sometimes.”

“Ah,” Spock said.

Prince George chuckled, but he seemed uncomfortable. “He’s great, I swear, but these things can be overwhelming. You know how it is, as the Ambassador’s son.”

Spock did not know what “these things” were that supposedly could be overwhelming, but he did not comment. Instead, he nodded and said, “I will take your leave. Prince George. Miss Tela.”

They bowed as he departed. It was unnecessary, as he had begun to explain to Prince James. Vulcan had no royalty, as Terra understood it. The Vulcan High Council ruled from Shi’kahr, but no one family or clan held status as a monarchy. As he reflected on the differences between Vulcan and Terra, Spock recognized that he felt weary - both of explaining those differences and living them.

Eventually the banquet ended. The mostly informal event was, several humans assured Spock, not nearly as exciting or as long as the feast King George was planning for several days hence. Vulcans did not experience headaches, but Spock was beginning to feel pressure build behind his eyes just thinking about the future festivities.

He parted ways with his parents, politely wishing them a good evening - despite Lady Amanda’s pleading glances that begged him to tell her what he thought of Prince James - and entered his room. He changed into meditation robes and rubbed I-Chaya’s head as he settled onto the black mat that sat in the corner of his room. Spock quickly found himself sinking deep into his subconscious. For awhile, he simply recounted events of the days previous, cataloging each memory into its rightful place. Then he turned to the subject of emotion, and found himself hesitating on the lip of that chasm. It was not necessarily that he did not like his emotions - although as a half-Vulcan he was always demeaned by his peers for the way he emoted blatantly and profusely. No, Spock simply found his emotions to be complex, confusing, too vast and powerful to deal with.

But he had to deal with them. Vulcans tended to their mental health primarily through meditation, and if Spock did not face these emotions right away, they would most likely devolve, take on lives of their own, and become more difficult to manage in the future. Spock shifted on his mat, uncomfortable with the work he needed to do.

He began by identifying the most obvious emotions first, working his way up to the more complex and mysterious ones last. He named curiosity, then desire, anger, sadness, confusion, and hope before he ran into a knot of emotions that defied disentanglement. Frustrated, Spock began by picking out threads one by one.

The first was the clearest - fear. It made sense. He was afraid of many things, which he was not averse to admitting. Spock had a healthy fear of le matya, dry Vulcan deserts, and the heat that could easily overwhelm even the most hearty warrior. But this fear was different from that. This fear was for the future, and for what he could not know - his betrothed’s heart. Spock allowed the questions at the heart of his fear to slip through his mind, slithering like eels in deep water: could he come to love Prince James? Could Prince James ever love him? What would their marriage look like? Might either of them be happy with this arrangement?

Next was bitterness. He felt bitter towards his parents for not telling him beforehand of this marriage. Sarek’s silence made sense - but his mother’s? She was always the one who scooped Spock up in her arms, assured him of her love constantly, swore to protect and love her son always. Why she would not simply inform him of the plan to marry him to one of Terra’s princes baffled him and embittered him toward her.

Third was jealousy, which surprised him. Spock had not before been prone to jealous thoughts, even when T’Pring challenged their bond and petitioned to dissolve it. He had not felt jealousy towards Stonn, although he was sure many Vulcans assumed he held the other male in contempt. What precisely was he jealous about? After musing over the question for long moments, Spock realized that the jealousy he felt was toward other Vulcans. They could bond with a lifelong partner, share their deepest intimacies with one another. But Spock was half-Vulcan, could not bond with anyone, according to T’Pau. And he was going to be married to a human, a psi-null species who could not fill that need any better than a rock could. What he desired desperately, he could not have.

Spock breathed deeply. One last, knotted emotion kept him from peace. What was it? He took long moments to analyze it. When he understood, Spock very nearly let out a very un-Vulcan groan.

Lust.

Was that even an emotion? He was tempted to follow that line of inquiry, instead of considering his feelings. But no - that was not why he had meditated. Spock had come to understand himself, to find peace.

He centered himself with another deep breath. An image popped unbidden to his mind; the first holoprojection he ever saw of Prince James Kirk. The grin on his face, his full lips, the fierce blue in his irises that took Spock’s breath away. But upon deeper reflection, Spock realized that was not what drew his attention - not really. It was the way his eyes did not crinkle in the corners, a tell-tale sign of performative joy, according to his mother. And the slope of his neck down from a chiseled jawline. Spock wanted to kiss his way down it to meet the collarbone that barely peeked out from under the blue shirt the prince was wearing. And the way his brow furrowed just slightly, giving his face an adorably puzzled air.

It was possible, Spock reflected gravely, that he just might have a romantic inclination to his future spouse.

Chapter Text

Slowly Spock came out of meditation. He rolled his shoulders uncomfortably and opened his eyes. Nothing had changed, and everything had. His internal chronometer told him it was just after 0200 hours. It would be logical to sleep, now that he had sufficient time to meditate. But while his mind was more restful, his body felt wide awake. Spock tensed his muscles from toes to scalp. He needed movement, release.

I-Chaya huffed next to him. Spock looked over and scratched behind his ears.

“Do you wish to explore the palace grounds with me?” he murmured, though he knew logically that the sehlat was not able to understand his words.

When they slipped out of Spock’s room, they both padded silently to the only place Spock had really seen thus far - the dining room. There was a large balcony with two flights of stairs flanking either side, leading down to a dark swath of garden below. Spock nudged I-Chaya toward the garden paths as they descended the stairs, and they walked together through lanes of trees that the Vulcan had never seen before. It was a beautiful place, and his other senses were tantalized by the exotic vegetation. The soft sighs of rustling branches and cloying smells of native flowers tugged and competed for Spock’s attention. Still they walked on.

Spock just turned a corner with I-Chaya right behind him when he pulled up short. There was a clearing in front of them, a grass lawn with two burbling fountains and a large, ornate bench between them. On it sat a familiar figure - Prince James. His back was straight, and his head was tilted to look at the sky. Spock’s breath caught. The moonlight rippled over his hair, giving it a glow akin to “angels” of Terran mythology. He was only four point four meters away, yet it may as well have been miles. Even though Spock had already waded through the morass of his emotions, something stuck in his throat as he regarded his fiance. He was beautiful. And he had no idea how to approach him.

The Vulcan made to leave just as quietly as he arrived, but I-Chaya spotted the prince and gave a low growl, stepping forward to place himself between Spock and the other. Prince James turned and stood quickly. His face registered surprise as he looked at the two of them.

“Prince Spock,” he said, then shook his head and chuckled lightly at himself. “Sorry, I - I know you don’t have a title. It’s just reflex.” He looked down at the sehlat who bared his fangs at the prince. “What’s that?” he asked, and Spock was surprised that his voice held no fear or disgust. He sounded… curious, soft.

“I-Chaya, at ease,” Spock commanded with a hand to the sehlat’s head. The large pet’s stance relaxed, but he continued to eye Prince James suspiciously. Spock walked closer to the human prince, surprising himself. I-Chaya padded next to him.

“This is I-Chaya,” Spock stopped a mere five feet away from Prince James. “He is a sehlat, my pet since boyhood.”

“Sehlat?”

“A creature reminiscent of Terran bears, but tamed and trained by Vulcans for thousands of years,” Spock explained. “I-Chaya has been a constant companion.”

Prince James tilted his head and regarded I-Chaya closely. Spock wanted to bite his lips as his mother sometimes did when she regretted saying something. He controlled himself, but just barely. It had not been his intention to reveal his childhood loneliness to the prince, and he braced himself for mockery or scorn.

The prince delivered neither. Instead he looked back up at Spock and asked, “Can I pet him?”

Surprised, Spock answered in the affirmative, and he watched Prince James reach his hand slowly out toward I-Chaya’s snout to sniff. Spock placed his palm flat on top of the sehlat’s head to communicate silently. I-Chaya sniffed Prince James’ hand, instantly storing away his scent to remember later, and then allowed the human to pet one large, pointed ear.

“He’s so soft,” Prince James said, his voice low. “Hi boy. Do you like your ears scratched?”

“I-Chaya cannot respond to you verbally,” Spock frowned.

The human chuckled. “I figured. Wait, verbally?”

“Indeed. As do many creatures from Vulcan, sehlats have minor telepathic capabilities. It is one way for their owners to communicate with them.”

“Wow,” Prince James breathed. “So he knows what I’m thinking right now?”

Spock inclined his head. “He can understand the basic forms of thought,” he said, “as a child can understand the tone and general meaning of an adult’s more complicated words.”

I-Chaya clearly enjoyed whatever Prince James was thinking about. He nuzzled the human’s hand to encourage more pats.

“And can he communicate back? Telepathically?”

“Indeed,” Spock replied. “However, as you are psi-null, like all humans, you would not be able to receive his thoughts.”

Prince James laughed, and it startled Spock. It felt too loud, too big, for the space they shared in that moment.

“Can you tell me what he’s thinking?” he asked, looking back up at Spock. Except this time, he looked Spock right in the eye. His blue eyes looked iridescent in the moonlight; they were a different shade than in the daytime. Logically, Spock knew this was due to the differences in frequency of the light waves from day to night. All the same, Prince James’ eyes captivated him. He found that he wanted to stare into them for hours, cataloging their various colors and the shadows of emotions he projected.

Spock blinked and tried to remember the question. He cleared his throat and placed a hand on I-Chaya’s head once more. “He regards you with fondness,” he said, his voice strangely rough. “And wishes you to continue stroking his ears.”

Jim shivered a little. Spock saying stroking should not have been as hot as it was.

“Do you - would you like to sit with me?” he asked, his hand stalling on I-Chaya’s head as he nodded toward the bench.

Spock regarded him from under half-closed lids. Prince James was wearing the same clothing he wore to the feast only hours before, only now they appeared more crumpled and worn-in. His hair was slightly more askew, as well, and he smelled like a mixture of his own sweat and another person’s. He tensed, drawing a logical conclusion from the data.

“I would not wish to interfere,” he began.

“No, you’re not interfering,” Jim interrupted quickly.

“You have been in sexual congress,” Spock said, voice flat. “It would be unwise for me and undesirable for you for me to stay if you are meeting your partner here.”

Although he had spent the last few hours in meditation upon this very subject, he still felt somewhat disappointed with this revelation. Spock liked Prince James upon meeting him at the feast, and dancing with him not been an unpleasant experience. Still, he should have known better than to expect fidelity, monogamy, from a prince he barely knew, a fiance he’d only just met.

Jim blinked. He shook his head and barked out a rough laugh.

“Wh- what?” he asked.

Spock frowned. His tone was surprised. When he presented his data, Prince James shook his head again. He took a step back and said,

“Spock, I know I - we don’t know each other that well but come on. We’re - we’re engaged. I wouldn’t do that to you. I wouldn’t cheat on you.”

“I do not believe it would be considered ‘cheating’ at this stage of our relationship,” Spock began, but Jim interrupted him.

“Whatever. I didn’t - I wasn’t having sexual congress with someone. As for the sweat - Sam wanted to spar a little, after the feast. I was just thinking out here. I invited you to stay because I thought you might like it - I learned from the Vulcan delegation that Vulcans like to meditate. If you don’t want to stay you don’t have to accuse me of cheating."

Spock was taken aback. “It was not my intention to offend you, Prince James,” he said, “but I can see that I have. Please forgive me.”

Jim shook his head again and waved his hand dismissively. He stepped back toward the bench. I-Chaya followed him and sat at his feet.

“Yeah, okay,” the prince said. A moment passed, then two; he thought Spock left. He was surprised when the Vulcan sat on the other end of the bench carefully, as though he might break it. They didn’t speak for a few minutes. Then:

“I have no wish to offend you further, Prince James,” Spock said carefully, and Jim tensed. “However, I wished to note that you have not stuttered or rambled in the past two point one minutes, as you did at the feast approximately three hours ago.”

Prince James did not respond immediately, but stooped and gathered a steaming mug that Spock had not noticed previously from under the bench. I-Chaya sniffed it experimentally, then returned to his supine position at the prince’s feet. Spock closed his eyes and mentally chastised himself for his poor behavior towards his fiance. By his count, he had already made fourteen mistakes since meeting Prince James in the shuttle bay earlier, and he could not be certain that he would not continue doing so. The subtleties and nuances of human relationships escaped him. They were not as readily available for study as human culture was, and Spock wished that the delegation sent to Vulcan only a few weeks ago would have spent more time on the topic of interpersonal relations.

“I’m not… good with people,” Prince James said hesitantly. Spock opened his eyes and looked at the prince.

“Clarify,” he said, then inwardly cringed at the commanding tone he used. “Please,” he added lamely.

Jim wrapped both hands around the mug of tea he held. He ran his index finger lightly over the lip. Anxiety began its familiar tug on his stomach. Apart from Sam, he’d never really talked to anyone about his speech. No one had ever asked, anyway - who wanted to go up to a crown prince and ask, “So what’s the deal with your mouth anyway?”

“I - I have anxiety,” he confessed softly. “My brain is dumb and I get tense and panicked. Sometimes. Especially around people I don’t know. And crowds.” Damn. It was back, full throttle, the nagging self-doubt, the what if whispers rolling around his head.

Spock cocked his head. Jim could see out of the corner of his eye that he looked puzzled.

“Have you not interacted with strangers and crowds from a young age?” he asked. And Jim expected to hear some sort of accusation in his tone, something like mockery - but he didn’t. There wasn’t. Spock sounded genuinely curious. Maybe even kind.

“Well, yeah. Yeah, I guess. But I’ve always been - kinda scared, or something,” Jim said. He bit his lip and looked over at Spock, who was watching him intently. “Probably not the best trait to have in a husband,” he added, his lips twisting into a self-deprecating smile.

But Spock shifted just a little bit closer to the prince and said sincerely, “It is not a Vulcan tradition to seek out mates who speak confidently around strangers and crowds.”

Prince James laughed softly. Spock felt a jolt of emotion in his chest. He liked being able to make his fiance laugh, he recognized faintly. And he would like to make him laugh again.

“May I ask,” Spock began hesitantly, again shifting closer to the human, “you did not stutter when we began conversing. Is…” he stopped, unsure of what he was really asking.

Jim swallowed and made himself look at the Vulcan. He was wearing black robes; even though they flowed gently from his shoulders, they still managed to show off his physique. Spock was thin and, as Jim knew from touching him when they danced, lithe, muscular. Goddamn, he was attractive.

“I guess,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “I’m trying - trying to not think of you as a stranger. Because we’re - you know, we’re getting married.” He bit his lip again and focused on his mug. “When I saw you back there I was surprised but - I don’t know, it wasn’t the same as at the feast, right? I think - I think I was just less nervous for a minute there. Don’t know why.”

He huffed a breath and took a sip of his tea. Spock nodded slowly to himself, as if something Jim said confirmed something he had already thought. Then, he said,

“What are you drinking?”

Jim blinked at the sudden change in conversation. “It’s, uh, Vulcan tea,” he said. “Your mom, she gave it to me before. Before the feast, I mean. I like it.”

Spock’s eyebrow rose. “My mother gave you tea?”

Prince James flushed. Even the creamy moonlight couldn’t hide the red on his cheeks.

“The loose leaves,” he said, “not a mug of tea. It wouldn’t be warm. Still. Obviously. She gave me a little bag of it.” He looked at Spock again, his gaze near but not quite meeting his eyes. “She said it would help me understand you better. I don’t - I don’t really understand what she meant by that.”

“My mother is human,” Spock said simply, as if that explained her meaning to the prince. When his brow furrowed and his eyes met Spock’s again, the Vulcan felt a bit lightheaded.

He cleared his throat and started again. “She most likely imagines the taste will give you a picture of Vulcan. She once told me that the spice reminds her of the cliffs of Hathor, which are visible from our house outside Shi’kahr.”

Jim hummed. “And you?” he asked. Spock just stared at him. “I mean, what does the tea remind you of? From Vulcan?”

Spock bowed his head. He regarded I-Chaya at Prince James’ feet.

“It reminds me of red sands,” he said softly. “And the dunes beyond the Forge that shift with the winds. It is illogical to attach images such as these to tastes,” he added, his shoulders tensing into a straight line. “However, I find that… like my mother, my more Human side is prone to illogical imaginings."

The prince huffed a laugh, once again surprising Spock. “I like your illogical imaginings,” he said, and he shifted closer to Spock on the bench. They were now eleven centimeters apart. “I guess your mom was right. The tea does help me understand you a little better.”

Spock nodded. He felt slightly out of his depth. He had changed the course of the conversation to Prince James’ tea based on the hypothesis that focusing on his anxiety made it worse, thus making his speech patterns less cohesive. Now that they were on a safer topic, though, he did not know where to take the conversation next.

“I like being out here, especially at night,” the prince said suddenly. Spock turned his head and saw Prince James’ face upturned to the skies. His eyes glinted in the light of the stars.

“For what reason?” Spock asked. “It is my understanding that the purpose of gardens is the display of various vegetation. As humans’ eyesight is 19.7% less accurate than a Vulcan’s in the darkness, would you not enjoy it more during daylight?”

“Yeah, but I don’t like being out here for the flowers, necessarily,” the human said, looking over at Spock again. “I like looking at the stars. When I was a kid - before I really understood, you know, what it meant to be a prince? I - I wanted to go into Starfleet. I was gonna be the best Captain ever, flying in between the stars and exploring new planets. Those were my illogical imaginings,” he added, chuckling.

Ah. One confession for another.

“You would make an excellent captain, Prince James,” Spock said softly. He moved surreptitiously closer to the human.

“You can just call me Jim,” he replied, also coming closer. “‘Prince James’ is so formal.”

“That is your title,” Spock pointed out.

They were now seven centimeters apart.

“Spock, we’re getting married,” Prince James - Jim - said. “I think we can be informal.”

Spock’s eyebrow rose. “Your logic is sound. Jim.”

He could hear the prince’s breath catch. Truthfully, Spock liked Jim’s name in his mouth. It rolled around his tongue like a pleasant, warm drink. Although he was not in the habit of informality with anyone, Spock thought he could become so.

Jim shuffled a little closer. I-Chaya huffed as his feet shifted under the sehlat’s bulk.

“Jim,” Spock said hesitantly. He hummed, stalling, then moved closer to the prince so that their thighs were touching. “I would like… to kiss you.”

If he hadn’t been sitting down Jim might have collapsed with surprise and adrenaline. Upon reflection, he should have known he would fall for the beautiful Vulcan who was obviously too good for him. That his feelings would be reciprocated humbled him.

He managed not to croak when he said, “I think I would like to kiss you, too,” but he was sure he looked desperate and terrified.

Spock’s head inclined toward Jim’s face just as Jim’s fingers stretched to meet Spock’s hand. They froze.

“Sorry, I’m so - God, sorry,” Jim said, cringing and pulling his hand back as if burned. Spock’s gut clenched. He stayed still, unsure how to proceed.

“There is no need to apologize, Jim,” he said, his voice low. “I did not realize you knew the Vulcan way to kiss.”

Jim was blushing so hard and his internal monologue vacillated between berating himself and yelling shit shit shit shit shit but he said out loud,

“The - delegation, they taught me some stuff. About Vulcan biology. Not like, Vulcan biology,” he said, his eyes wide. “Just like - hands are sensitive and your heart’s, like, on your right side. And I did some research on Vulcan culture on my own. Not like, research research, because there’s not a lot out there about Vulcans - you’re kind of secretive, as - as a culture. Not that that’s bad!”

“Jim,” Spock interrupted gently. He placed one hand on top of his fiance’s, and heard him take a deep breath. “You need not be anxious. I shall take what you give me: no more. If I overstepped my boundaries, I sincerely apologize."

“No! God, no,” Jim said, staring at Spock’s hand on his. “You didn’t, I - I’m sorry I’m anxious, it’s literally so stupid because we’re getting married, we’re already engaged kind of - sorry. I mean, I didn’t mean to - I’m just -” He made a frustrated grunt in his throat. Spock could feel Jim’s body tense and lowered his mental shields just enough to understand Jim’s emotions. They were cloudy and muddled under his touch, but Spock could make out red-hot embarrassment, anxiety, confusion, desire, anger. He withdrew his hand slowly.

Jim took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” he said, forcing the words out, careful and precise. “I didn’t mean for that to be awkward. Can we… try again? The… the human way?"

He looked up to see a tiny non-smile in the corner of Spock’s mouth.

“Yes, Jim,” he said, “I would like that.”

Their heads leaned together, foreheads almost touching. Spock could feel Jim’s breath on his cheek, sweet and warm. His lips ghosted over Jim’s, and he had read human fiction before - of course he had, his mother was Amanda Grayson - but he had never understood when authors mentioned seeing stars or feeling sparks in their bodies and yet -

I-Chaya half-barked, half-huffed suddenly, startling both Prince James and Spock. Their foreheads knocked as they looked up.

A dark figure stood before them, wearing the glinting breastplate and arm bands of the Vol Dur. Her dark eyes regarded them, showing no emotion as she spoke.

“Your Majesty, Lord Spock,” she said. “You have been missing for 15.24 minutes.”

“What?” Jim asked, baffled and not completely with it yet.

“T’Sol,” Spock said, and stood. “The human guards have been within 20.75 feet at all times. This hardly classifies as ‘missing.’”

T’Sol’s eyes narrowed. “I do not intend to insult the human guards,” she said, her tone implying the exact opposite. “However, in light of recent security threats against His Majesty’s life, the Vol Dur insist on expanding our focus to include the entire royal family, as they will become our responsibility through marriage.”

“Sorry, what?” Jim asked again, now standing. “Did you - did you just say there’s a, a, threat? Against my life?”

“His Majesty the King,” the Vol Dur guard corrected herself, fixing Jim with her steely gaze.

“What threats are those?” Jim demanded, somewhat deflated but intent nevertheless. “And if the, uh, threats are against my - King George and not me, then wh - why is Vulcan security protecting me, too?”

T’Sol straightened her spine even further and said stiffly, “Classified, Your Majesty.”

“Prince James,” Spock said, interrupting Jim as he opened his mouth to stutter out another response. “It is late. As humans require more rest than Vulcans, it would be wise for you to retire for the evening. Perhaps more will be illuminated in the morning. T’Sol,” he said, bowing slightly to dismiss her.

Before Jim’s eyes, she seemed to melt into the surrounding darkness. He swallowed, then took a deep breath.

“Jim,” Spock said his name quietly. “Are you well?”

When he turned to look at the Vulcan, Jim looked tired and angry. Spock was alarmed to find that the bags under Jim’s eyes looked dark purple and heavy; he scolded himself for not recognizing the signs of exhaustion before. Jim seemed to be struggling to speak, but eventually shrugged.

“I’m - I’ve been better,” he said. Then he looked up at Spock again, making a concerted effort to make eye contact. “I’m sorry we got interrupted. Again.”

“As you said, Jim,” Spock replied, that non-smile quirking the corners of his lips again, “we are soon to be married. We shall have plenty of time to kiss.”

Jim blushed at Spock’s words - they would have plenty of time to kiss, and do a great many other things, too. They parted with quiet goodbyes.

When Jim got back to his quarters, he leaned against the door and sighed, closing his eyes and dropping his head back until it hit the heavy metal. Then he giggled to himself, opening his eyes. He hadn’t felt so - so fluttery about a crush since he was much younger and met Nyota Uhura at a palace function and practically fell on his face bowing to her. Even that memory of butterflies in his stomach couldn’t quite compare to what he felt when Spock was around. He pushed off from the door and shed the rumpled clothes Spock had commented on. He’d really thought Jim was having sexual congress - and who even said sexual congress, anyway - but it was so endearing that he was already planning on telling their grandkids about that one time when their grandparents met and grandfather thought papa was cheating on him -

And then he flopped on the bed and lay there thinking about grandkids and suddenly he felt so lightheaded he thought about calling for Bones. And then he thought about Spock’s lips hovering over his and decided that Bones was the last person he wanted to see at the moment.

“Computer, lights off,” he murmured, nuzzling his face against a pillow. His hand drifted to his bare stomach, brushing the sensitive hairs below his navel. He thought again about his fiance - his fiance, he was actually going to marry Spock - and the elevated temperature of his lips, the way heat radiated off his face, and wondered as his fingers brushed down the shaft of his cock if the rest of him was so hot.

There was a soft voice in his head that tried to remind him of all the reasons he should not be jerking off to fantasies of Spock - all the insecurities about his body, all the anxiety about his past, all the ways James T. Kirk was capital-F-Fucked-Up - but his mind’s eye recalled the way Spock looked at him as they were about to kiss in the garden and his brain short circuited.

Jim bit his lip. He squeezed the head of his penis gently as he remembered Spock’s warm hand against his own, then imagined it gripping him in other places and oh - a soft groan escaped his lips as he grew rock hard in seconds.

He imagined Spock’s mouth on his, moving across his jaw, down his neck, sucking on his collarbone. Jim lazily circled one nipple with his free hand and stroked his dick smoothly, evenly. Would Spock be gentle and caress him carefully, softly, moving his hands delicately down Jim’s sides and hips, rocking into him with sweet moans, Jim’s name dripping off his mouth like honey? Or would he be rough, taking what he wanted, leaving bruising marks on Jim’s skin like glaring neon signs - Spock’s, only Spock’s? Jim moaned and pinched his other nipple, imagining Spock licking and then nibbling on it, looking up at him under those thick black eyelashes.

His hips canted up to meet his hand. Jim shivered as his muscles tensed, then relaxed as he came. He exhaled heavily, cleaned himself up, disappointed that it was over so fast. Then he lay back in bed, grinning at the ceiling. If it was as good in his head now, the real thing would be fucking mind blowing.

Spock, for his part, went quietly into his room, changing into the proper sleeping attire, turning his bedding down, brushing his teeth. When he laid in bed, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Vulcans did not masturbate. However, as a half-Vulcan...

The next few days dragged on intolerably. Spock and Jim did not get to interact hardly at all as diplomatic engagements separated them or kept them parted by laughing crowds.

The third morning since their almost-kiss dawned, the morning blurred by cloudy skies and curling fog. Since nightmares almost constantly hovered over the edge of his sleep, Jim was startled awake by memories of explosions and screaming and crying and no not them, take me -

He rubbed his face, covered with a sheen of sweat, and hit the showers as soon as he could feel his legs again. When he was dressed, he stepped onto the small balcony his room afforded and breathed deeply the morning air. It filled his lungs and made him feel ten feet tall; suddenly he laughed, because the nightmares were behind him and Spock was ahead and nothing could be better than that.

Jim traipsed downstairs to the private dining room he, Sam, and George used. Only - there were more voices there than he was used to. He stopped to listen a moment, heard a deep Vulcan voice. But then he was startled by a maid - “oh bless you, Sire, my sincerest apologies, please, do come in and sit” - and then he was ushered in and saw Sarek, Spock, Amanda, Sam, and George seated around the ornate mahogany table that usually felt so empty. Now it was crowded with people and food. There were scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon, cereals, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, stacks of pancakes, jars of juice and water. It was too hectic by far, and Jim could already see the Vulcans were overwhelmed.

“Jim-boy!” King George boomed, sliding his chair back to greet his youngest son with a bear hug that ended with a resounding clap on the back. Spock could not help but think of this monarch as a thunderstorm: constantly whirling, his voice cutting through all other noise, every movement drawing attention to himself. Jim, on the other hand, seemed to shrink under George’s attention. He hugged his father back, but stepped away quickly to avoid another clap on the shoulder, so that George swung at the empty air.

“Pull up a seat,” Sam said around a mouthful of bacon. Sarek looked particularly revolted by the prince’s choice of breakfast, but diplomatically said nothing.

Jim wished he could find some excuse to sit next to Spock, but he was already sandwiched between his parents. Their eyes met. Jim tried to lift one eyebrow like Spock did, but only succeeded in looking extremely surprised. Spock coughed, a piece of apple flying out of his mouth as he stifled a small laugh.

They ate together, George and Amanda keeping up most of the conversation. They discussed the weather, minor diplomatic reports, news from Amanda’s home state, New Hampshire, and, of course, the upcoming marriage ceremony. Jim rolled his eyes through most of it. Honestly, he never thought about his own marriage. He hadn’t really envisioned the future, at least not more than two or three years ahead. And he was still young, still 23 goddamn years old, and if he thought about it too long he started to get panicky again so he just let it slide, let the real adults color coordinate and seriously debate whether or not Spock and Jim should wear white or black suits. He glanced at Spock. He wondered if the Vulcan would be amenable to elopement.

Spock sat quietly, retreating to a corner of his mind where he thought about his research. He was not one for idle chatter and had no real opinions on whether cake or cake pops - what sort of abomination those could be, he had no clue - were the dessert du jour. Whatever was decided, his mother would inform him later, and that would be enough.

George startled him out of his thoughts, however, when he slapped Jim’s back and asked, far, far too loudly,

“So Jim-boy, what are you doing today? The slate’s clean, no parties to attend, no meetings to sit through. You could take your fiance for a day on the town,” he added, winking at Spock.

Jim flushed under everyone’s attention and wiped his hands on his pants.

“There’s - I need - uh, I’ve got papers to grade,” he started. George snorted and leaned back in his chair.

“Not work, Jim! You’ve got to live a little, show your future husband a good time. Can’t have your nose in a book forever, son.”

“It’s… dad - Your Majesty - students are in midterms, there’s - there’s a lot of catching up to -”

“Why don’t you take him out to see the Golden Gate?” George interrupted. “Or - you’ve always liked the Museum of Aeronautics! You could take him to see those old 21st century spaceships you used to like so much.”

“When he was 12,” Sam mumbled, reaching for one more biscuit.

“If you can’t get off of the grounds, at least show him around the palace a bit. It was built by my grandfather,” George continued, leaning toward Spock. “We’ve kept it up nicely - there’s all kinds of things to do around here. Spock, you were in the Vol Dur, right?”

“Correct,” Spock replied curtly. He was beginning to wonder if his father had experienced this level of discomfort toward his own father-in-law when he married Amanda.

“Why don’t you two spar? Toughen you up, Jimbo,” George teased, clapping Jim on the shoulder again.

“I don’t - that’s - Spock doesn’t want to,” Jim stuttered lamely, throwing a panicked look to Spock. There was a request in his eyes that Spock thought he understood.

“Vulcans are three times stronger than humans, and 1.75 times faster,” Spock said quietly. Amanda put her hand on his arm, but did not interrupt. “If I spar with Prince James, I am more likely to injure him than ‘toughen him up.’”

George threw his head back and laughed, and the sound filled the too-small room uncomfortably.

“Well!” he cried, slapping the table instead of Jim’s bruised shoulder. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?”

Jim’s face hardened. Spock glanced from him to Sam. The elder brother was staring at Jim, concern etched into the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, looking like he wanted to say something. George seemed to realize that he made a faux pas, and coughed, saying,

“Well, I uh… I guess you two can figure out when’s a good time to meet in the rec room. Sarek, are you and Lady Amanda going to attend the Tellurite gathering next week? I thought I heard that Sybok would be coming.”

And just like that the conversation turned. Jim sat glued to his seat, his face an impassable mask. Spock studied his intended, taking in the tightness around Jim’s mouth, the purse of his lips, the way his chin wobbled once before he clenched his teeth and pinched his own sensitive inner wrist.

They all departed the dining room together. Spock noted how Jim’s chair scraped back from the table slower than his brother’s and father’s, and also took his time in getting up. Sarek glanced back at him as he and Amanda stepped out with King George, but did not comment when Spock hung back. As soon as they were alone - without the other royalty or ambassadors, anyway; they were never truly alone with the amount of guards around - Spock took Jim’s wrist in one gentle hand and said his name quietly.

Jim was shaking. His skin felt clammy. His breath was short and quick. Spock’s brows furrowed, and he said his name more insistently, stepping closer to his betrothed.

“I’m fine,” Jim said shortly. He pulled his hand from Spock’s and didn’t see the look of surprise flicker over Spock’s features. “Meet you at 1500 hours in rec room one?”

And then he walked out the door.

Spock simply stared after the human. When he began finally making his way back up to his room, he contemplated the morning from all angles and still ended up baffled. From what he could tell, King George had not spoken offensively. “What does not kill you makes you stronger” was a - frankly illogical - Terran colloquial saying that had been in circulation for centuries. Perhaps Jim objected to the tone? But why would he presume that Spock did not want to spar with him? Had Spock misinterpreted this assumption? It may have been that Jim was trying to reject not the sparring but - painfully, he paused at the threshold of his room - Spock himself.

He tried to force himself to work on the research paper that stared blankly at him from his padd. When Lady Amanda knocked on his door, however, he felt strangely glad for the distraction, even if it was only to discuss wedding invitations.

At 1450 hours, Spock stood outside rec room one. The Vol Dur guard who accompanied him buzzed the door open, then stepped aside, saluting as Spock swept past.

The recreation room was spacious. The floor was padded with thick mats. Two walls were covered in mirrors, and a third was all windows - it looked out over a swelling green lawn and the long front driveway. In the corner was a large punching bag, red and black and overstuffed. Spock located Jim and walked over to him, curious. The prince stood with an older human, who looked roughly as happy to be there as a sehlat would be in water. He muttered under his breath - gonna fight some pointy-eared alien that’ll fuckin’ kill him, when will he ever fuckin’ learn - as he wrapped Jim’s hand in white, gauzy tape. Jim, standing serenely as if he had not heard his companion’s monologue, wore loose sweatpants and a long-sleeve black shirt that fit his body tightly in the arms and across the chest. Spock barely avoided staring hungrily.

“Spock!” Jim greeted him with a smile, and all of Spock’s former anxieties melted under the warmth of his gaze.

“Prince James,” Spock returned, bowing slightly.

“Bones, this is S’chn T’gai Spock of Vulcan. Spock, this is Dr. McCoy - we call him Bones,” Jim said, introducing the older human to him. Mildly bewildered that Jim had come close to pronouncing his name correctly, Spock only bowed.

Dr. McCoy nodded in his general direction and did not cease wrapping Jim’s hand.

“Why do you not call him by his given name?” Spock asked, looking from the doctor to his patient. Jim grinned and swiped a stray piece of hair off his forehead.

“Me an’ Bones go way back,” he said easily, affectionately patting the doctor’s shoulder. “He’s been our family doctor for - for fifteen years, I think. I first, uh, met him when I broke my collar bone. Second grade. Little kid shenanigans, you know?”

Spock raised one eyebrow but did not comment. Dr. McCoy did not appear as nonplussed. He snorted and said,

“Shenanigans are one thing, Jim. Jumping off the garage roof because your brother dared you to land on the hovorbike like some kind of goddamn action hero? Fuckin’ stupid, is what it is, even for a kid.”

He finished wrapping Jim’s hand and stepped back after ensuring that both were tied off properly. Jim just chuckled at McCoy as if he had not just insulted a crowned prince.

“Is that your medical opinion?” he teased. Bones glared at him.

“My professional medical opinion,” he said, his Southern accent lingering on professional, “is that I’d better stay here just in case your groom-to-be decides to get handsy.”

“I assure you, doctor, that I will abstain from physical affection towards Prince James during our sparring session,” said Spock, standing at parade rest as he coolly regarded McCoy. Jim shivered. Even though he wasn’t the subject of Spock’s intense gaze, he could imagine what it would feel like to be looked at, to be seen, so deeply and unflinchingly.

“You don’t have to,” Jim said, then flushed deep red as they turned to look at him. “I - I didn’t mean - no, I just meant that - that you didn’t have to s-s-say that. Obviously you’re not, uh, going to be handsy. Bones - he was just kidding. We’re sparring. That’s just - that’s all. Not that I wouldn’t - wouldn’t mind. Handsy. Later. Not now. Because we’re - not doing that.”

“Oh, Jesus,” Bones grumbled, rolling his eyes. Spock’s gaze rested once more on the tightness of Jim’s shirt across his chest and he enjoyed the blush across Jim’s face.

They moved to the middle of the room. Dr. McCoy, the Vol Dur guard, and two human guards stayed near the walls. Spock started with simple, almost lazy jabs. Jim deflected easily. They circled each other, getting a feel for strengths and weaknesses, where a muscle tensed or a jaw clenched.

Because Spock had trained with the Vol Dur extensively, he was well-versed in Suus Mahna. He knew the art inside and out, had excelled as a top student. His drive derived from the desire to silence his critics. Spock knew he was not favored among the Vulcan elite. As a half-human, most expected nothing of him, belittling his achievements and scorning his attempts at living like a true Vulcan. Still he strove, working harder by far than any of his classmates to become part of the praetorian guard in the Vulcan High Council, only to have it stripped away.

Was it worth it? A Human husband in exchange for a better working relationship between their planets? Was that all either of them were - gifts or pawns to be exchanged in a deal, to be offered up as sacrifices for the sake of their respective planets?

He feinted a right hook at Jim’s face, then ducked low and swiped his foot in a graceful arch on the floor to unbalance him. To his surprise, Jim dodged the punch and jumped easily over his leg. He grinned, then waved him forward. Spock narrowed his eyes and adjusted his strategy.

Jim never went on the offensive. He blocked all of Spock’s blows, keeping his arms at face-level to ward off the hits that kept coming. Still, he never once lashed out. Soon enough he was drenched in sweat, his breathing quick and shallow as he lunged left to avoid a calculated kick. Spock didn’t even look like he was trying: his eyes were focused, calm, his movements precise and measured.

They had been sparring for 20.6 minutes when Jim faltered, his foot catching on one of the mats, right knee buckling slightly. Spock capitalized on his misfortune by crowding Jim in and shoving him hard with one palm in his solar plexus. He gasped, his mouth trying to suck in air, but Spock was too quick. With a practiced move, he pinned Jim to the mat, one hand on his throat and the other holding one arm above his head.

If it hadn’t been so painful it would’ve been exceedingly erotic, Jim thought fleetingly as he breathed heavily under Spock. Their hips aligned, and Spock sat almost directly on top of his crotch. If he moved just a little, he could get that glorious friction he wanted so bad. Then he winced as his shoulder agonized, arm twisted high in Spock’s unyielding grip. He tried laughing, but it came out as a coughing chuckle instead.

“Wow, Spock,” he said, and Spock could feel the delicious vocal vibrations reverberate through his hand. “That was damn impressive.”

“Alright, alright,” Bones groused, and Spock looked up to see him crouching next to them. He had forgotten that Dr. McCoy was present. “Let him go, let's see how much damage you did.”

“I’m fine, Bones,” Jim said with a mild grimace. Spock released him and stood gracefully.

“Which one of us is has the Ph.D. in medicine, Jim?” McCoy asked, and Spock tilted his head slightly. Did he forget? If so, he was most unfit to determine Jim’s health and wellbeing. But Jim just chuckled again, sitting up to offer Bones a better vantage.

After a moment of head-shaking and mumbling under his breath - the doctor was not nearly as confidential as he needed to be, according to Spock’s understanding of human doctoral practices - McCoy leaned back on his heels and sighed.

“A dislocated shoulder,” he said accusingly, glaring up at Spock. The Vulcan, towering over him, looked on calmly. “That’s bad,” he continued.

“I am aware that a dislocated shoulder is not considered “good” by any species, doctor,” Spock said, bristling at Dr. McCoy’s tone. Perhaps Jim should look into hiring a family doctor with better bedside manner, he thought.

“Then you’ll know that he’s in no condition to continue,” the doctor said. “And furthermore, you’ll know that in the future when sparring with your spouse, you’ll need to be more careful."

By the flush spreading across Jim’s face, it was logical to deduce that Dr. McCoy used sparring as a euphemism for other marital physical activities. The tips of his ears warmed at the thought. He schooled his features to impassive blankness, inclining his head curtly to indicate understanding.

Dr. McCoy helped Jim stand. Shooting a glare at the Vulcan and muttering, “Your Majesty,” he brushed past Spock and led his patient away toward the medical wing. Jim paused in the doorway and looked back. Spock still stood in the middle of the room, seemingly unsure of himself. Jim grinned.

After almost 45 agonizingly long minutes of fighting with Bones to release him, Jim walked out of medical with only the doctor’s strange Southern threats lingering in his mind - hand to God, Jim, no strenuous activity for at least a full day or I’ll come after you like a honeybee after hyssop. His long sleeve shirt stuck to his skin where sweat had dried, but he hummed under his breath and made his way to his rooms. Once there, he showered, changed, and gathered his favorite old chess set. Before he could second-guess himself, he marched to Spock’s room and banged on the door.

No one answered. Jim bit his lip. Maybe he should have waited. Spock was probably mad that their sparring got interrupted so early. He should have said something - maybe Lady Amanda or the wedding planners came by and kidnapped him to pick his brain for floral arrangements. Jim felt anxiety unfurl in his chest, up his neck, curling down into the base of his spine.

And then Spock appeared, and it was like gentle moonlight illuminating a dark room, banishing the shadows that crowded Jim’s mind. He couldn’t help the grin that threatened to split his face in half.

“Spock!” he said unnecessarily. If he was honest, he just really liked saying his fiance’s name.

“Prince James,” Spock replied, his eyes widening. He glanced both ways down the hall, then returned a puzzled gaze to the Prince. “Why are you here? Did Dr. McCoy heal your injuries?”

“Just the one injury, and it wasn’t even that bad. Did I come at a bad time? I can totally come back later. Unless. You don’t want me to? Fuck, I - I should have asked first. Should I leave? I can leave, I didn’t mean to - well, I wouldn’t - I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I should go,” Jim spoke fast, the reassurance he felt at seeing Spock in the door dissipating. Spock simply blinked and then moved aside, inviting him in wordlessly.

“I just thought maybe, you know, since we didn’t - didn’t get to spend that much time sparring, we could do something else. Uh, not something else,” he said, blushing again, his mind returning to his particular ramble about being handsy, “I was just thinking - do, do you like chess?”

Spock blinked again and looked down at the chess set Jim held.

“I have played chess before,” he said finally. “I did not know it was an interest of yours.”

Jim tapped his fingers against the checkered tiles. “Oh, yeah, me? For sure. I love chess. I usually only get to play against Sam, but he doesn’t have a great attention span for it. Do you want to play? Or, I mean, I understand if you’re busy, I could definitely come back sometime -”

“I would like to play with you, Jim,” Spock said, and Jim sensed the smile at the corners of his eyes. Warmth spread through his torso out to his fingers and toes. Maybe it was the higher temperature of the room. He remembered the many times the Vulcan delegation had hammered into his head that Vulcans require elevated temperatures to compensate for the natural climate of their home world, Your Majesty, it would be wise to acclimate yourself to the warmth your husband will desire.

“Me too! Obviously, I mean, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought it.”

Spock simply gave Jim a soft look that made Jim a bit lightheaded and lead him to a small table near one of the large windows overlooking the bay. The weather had turned since the last time Jim looked outside. Instead of bright, clear sunshine, the landscape was shadowed by overcast skies and drizzling drops. Even behind the clouds it was clear the sun had begun its slow descent, the seasonal change shrinking the afternoon hours day by day.

They set up the board. Jim gave Spock the advantage. They played quietly at first, each content in the amenable silence. It was actually Spock who broke into conversation first, noting that Dr. McCoy seemed “abrasive and generally demeaning” towards Terran royalty. That made Jim laugh, and Spock appeared pleased with himself. They talked through the rest of the game, words coming more easily to Jim until he realized that, as he checkmated Spock, he hadn’t stuttered since at least six turns ago when Spock took his last bishop.

“Excellent game, Jim,” Spock said as he examined the board. His tone was… warm, perhaps. Definitely emotional. He was not certain whether that was ultimately a bad thing as Jim leaned in toward him. “Although,” he continued, looking up meaningfully at the human, “I ponder whether part of your strategy was to distract me with conversation.”

Jim laughed again. It seemed to come so easy to him, like water released from a fountain.

“You caught me, Mister Spock,” he said, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Am I that transparent? I hope I leave a little more to the imagination once we’re married.”

“Not much more,” Spock murmured, and Jim flushed furiously as his gaze roved over his body. His eyes returned to the prince’s and they widened slightly. “I apologize, Jim. I did not mean offense -”

“None taken,” Jim said, his face beet red, “I just - didn’t think you’d be such a goddamn sweet talker.”

Spock’s head tilted slightly. “I have studied human culture, and find the phenomenon of ‘flirting’ to be quite popular. If I have erred -”

“No, not at all,” Jim cut him off once more. He was ready to offer a rematch, but noticed a curious expression on Spock’s face. His brow was furrowed and lips were parted, and he stared at Jim like he was a puzzle or a riddle he was on the verge of understanding.

“Would you like to… sit with me, Prince James?” he asked, hesitant. He did not know how to ask for what he wanted; recalling the night in the garden, he repeated Jim’s own inquiry back to him, hoping he would understand.

“I think we are sitting,” Jim said, his head tilting to match Spock’s. He smiled. “And seriously, I like it better when you call me Jim.”

Spock’s lips canted upward slightly. “Jim,” he corrected himself. “Would you like to sit with me elsewhere?” He nodded to a loveseat situated nearby, overstuffed and looking extraordinarily tempting to Jim’s sore body.

They sat, the small entertainment area separated from the rest of the room by translucent dividers. The arrangement still allowed for a view of the bay, although it was rather limited due to the hazy fog that seemed to roll in from nowhere. Staccato droplets pelted the window. It was pretty romantic, Jim had to admit to himself - and he wondered if Spock had been taking really good notes, or if someone had given him pointers.

As when they sat together in the garden, their thighs barely touched on the loveseat. Jim felt his heart race and heard the self-deprecating voice whisper more forcefully in his head - watch out, Jim-boy, you’re heading for heartbreak - but he cleared his throat and said out loud,

“So how are you liking Earth? Terra, I mean. It’s probably really different from Vulcan. Kinda cold right now. For fall.”

Spine rigid, Spock turned to look at Jim more fully. “Indeed,” he replied. “Vulcan differs vastly from Terra in many ways, not the least of which includes the climate. However, as I have visited this planet before, I came prepared to regulate my internal temperature accordingly.”

Jim smiled and looked at his hands, twisted together in his lap. “Good,” he said.

They were quiet for 63 seconds before Spock broke the silence.

“Jim,” he said, his tone again tentative. “I had hoped that… since we were interrupted when we first attempted to kiss - might we be able to try again now?”

And oh, oh, Jim’s insides did acrobatics. Pink spread under his freckles. He could feel the heat fan from his ears to his nose. It was almost enough to hear Spock say the word kiss, like a reverent and special thing that they alone shared. Jim looked up to meet Spock’s eyes and the yes that had already formed itself on the tip of his tongue fell silent in the face of his warm, honeyed gaze.

So instead of answering he simply leaned forward, his heart racing and his hands shaking. Spock met him halfway. The press of his lips against Jim’s was ecstasy. He closed his eyes to savor the moment.

When Jim pulled back slightly to settle his heartbeat and take a deep inhale, Spock chased after him, planting a firmer kiss on his fiance’s lips. From the stream of desire interest affection surprise coming from Jim, he sensed he had done the right thing. His hand came to rest on Jim’s cheek, cupping his face like it was a precious thing that might break if he handled him too roughly.

Jim’s tongue swiped against his lips softly. In his surprise, Spock startled. Jim found his courage, pressing forward bodily until he was leaning on Spock, exploring his mouth, feeling the exotic warmth of the Vulcan’s skin against his own, wishing he could live in this moment forever. His hand came around Spock’s head to his neck, fingers gently stroking the silky hair.

He laughed, short and quiet, when Spock practically picked him up to settle him on his lap. He’d felt Spock’s strength when they sparred, sure, but the present reality of his superhuman abilities definitely turned Jim on.

“It is a better angle,” Spock said, earnest and straightforward. And then they were back to kissing, and Jim never thought that kissing could be so much, so fulfilling. His knees bracketed Spock’s thighs, their torsos pressed together, and it was a little overwhelming but also not at all enough. Jim moaned a little when Spock’s hands came to his hips, promise and uncertainty in his touch. He moaned louder when Spock’s lips left his own to mouth at Jim’s neck, nipping and sucking at the point under his ear where the blood pulsed loudest, grip tightening around Jim’s hips in excitement and expectation.

“Spock,” Jim whispered, and Spock practically purred into his neck. No one had ever said his name in that way before - like a worshipper offering sacrifice, sacred and filthy and full of desire.

“Spock, wait,” Jim said. Spock offered one more kiss to Jim’s cool skin, then looked at him expectantly. “I just -” he swallowed closed his eyes, saying,

“Bones said - the shoulder, he said no… no strenuous physical activities.”

When he opened his eyes, Jim sucked in a breath. Spock’s gaze was intense, his pupils dilated, the brown of his irises darkened. He slowly leaned in to press chaste kisses to Jim’s lips, speaking when he pulled away, the words forming and moving only a short distance between his own and Jim’s mouths.

“Then,” he whispered, his hands moving to cup Jim’s backside and pull him flush against his own body, “I propose that I perform the strenuous activities, and you,” he moved to bite and suck at Jim’s earlobe, “follow the doctor’s orders.”

Spock felt Jim gasp, could feel the way his body simultaneously tensed in anticipation and melted under Spock’s hands. It was a heady feeling. His grip moved down Jim’s thighs, flexing against the defined muscles in his legs. Jim directed Spock’s mouth back to his own, licking over his teeth, his tongue, his palette. Jim’s tongue had an addictive taste, something that was quite individual to Jim, he was sure, a flavor of musky tang and a sweet undertone that left him hungry for more.

His hands reversed their journey, moved back up Jim’s thighs, and if a thumb innocently grazed Jim’s crotch then Spock was not sorry, especially hearing his appreciative groan.

Spock’s tongue was rougher than Jim’s own, his mouth hotter. Jim sighed into their kiss, more relaxed and wired than he’d ever been with anyone. Sure, he had slept with a couple other people - those relationships were short-lived and ill-advised - but Jim had never expected to feel his skin hum against another person’s, to want and want and have that want answered and even reciprocated so fucking beautifully. It was heaven, and Jim wanted to stay there forever.

Until Spock’s hands kept moving up to the hem of Jim’s shirt, his fingers just barely lifting the fabric to touch the skin above the waistband of his pants. And just like that, Jim snapped back to reality. He pulled back abruptly, putting his hands over Spock’s and pushing them away.

“Not yet,” he said apologetically, feeling a red hot blush on his face and neck.

“Jim, I apologize - I will cease -”

“No, just - not right now,” Jim said, cutting him off. Spock looked into his eyes, concern evident in every corner of his face.

“Ashayam, we can stop now, if you want,” he said softly, taking Jim’s hands in his own. It was so different from the way he had gripped Jim so hot and tight just seconds ago, and yet it felt just as intimate, just as special. “In the garden I said that I would take no more than you would give me. I would never wish to hurt you, or to push you too far.”

Jim leaned in to kiss him. He cupped Spock’s face in his hands, rough thumbs running over his cheekbones.

“No,” he said in between kisses. “I don’t - please don’t stop. Just don’t, not yet. I just -” he leaned his forehead against Spock’s, struggling to find the right words.

Spock stroked his back and pressed his forehead to Jim’s, reassuring him without having to speak. He brushed his lips against Jim’s, their noses nuzzling together, initiating again their delicious dance.

They moved slowly, kissing deeply and touching gently, and when Jim rolled his hips just so, seeking friction against Spock’s hard body, they both moaned, a harmony of satisfaction. Spock reached up, unhooking the top clasp of his robes at his neck, revealing the pale green throat underneath. Jim leaned into it hungrily, fingers undoing the other clasps as he pressed open-mouthed kisses to his bobbing Adam’s apple. Spock helped as Jim fumbled over a last hidden button, then pulled the garment open to his waist. Jim ran his hands appreciatively down Spock’s chest. It was covered in thick, beautiful black hair, soft and sleek like the stuff on his head. While one hand brushed over Spock’s pectoral muscle, grazing a sensitive nipple, the other reached around Spock’s head, pressing closer that much more urgently. Spock sighed into his mouth, his hands settled on and kneading Jim’s ass.

It was a testament to how very enthralling Spock found these activities when he realized suddenly that he was not certain how much time had passed since they first sat down. He was so focused on Jim and his pleasure, on knowing that with every stroke of his hands Jim shivered with delight and pressed his growing erection against Spock’s.

Idly, his fingers wandered up to the hem of Jim’s shirt again. He was not completely sure what Jim meant when he said “not yet,” but certainly enough time had gone by that he could finally get his hands on the expanse of Jim’s cool skin. He shuddered in anticipation, his imagination flashing forward to when he could touch Jim’s stomach, his nipples, kiss his collarbone, splay his hands across Jim’s back -

But even as he brushed his fingers across the barest sliver of skin underneath his shirt, Jim pushed himself away against Spock’s chest. He backed off of Spock’s lap, his brows drawn and furrowed angrily, standing over him with a hurt scowl on his face.

“I s-s-said no,” he snapped, adjusting his shirt with shaking fingers.

“Jim, I am sorry,” Spock started, standing to face him, but Jim just turned on his heel and walked toward the door.

Jim knew it wasn’t fair even as he strode through the hallway toward his own room, knew he shouldn’t have put this on Spock so soon - yet his emotions got the better of him and as he slammed the door behind him he couldn’t help but sob once. Spock didn’t follow him.

He took a shuddering breath in. Dashing away tears from his eyes, Jim went to the bed, curling up in a fetal position, tighter and tighter until he could barely breathe. Shame pooled in his chest. He should have known better, should have pulled away earlier, should have explained why he couldn’t let Spock see him.

That soft voice whispered in the back of his mind, explaining in minute detail where exactly he went wrong, painting a vivid picture of Spock’s disgust, his displeasure, his certain disappointment. He held onto his legs, digging his fingers into the flesh of his calves. His shoulder ached, his eyes burned, but he tightened his grip anyway and the pain overwhelmed his emotions and he drifted off to sleep shaking in his own arms.

Chapter Text

He awoke with a start, hunger pangs and a deep ache in his shoulder vying for his attention, though he wasn’t sure where either of those came from at the moment. Jim squinted at the soft light filtering through his window - early morning, a perfect opportunity to grab some breakfast unnoticed, continue grading papers, maybe even start planning next semester’s lessons. Would Sam be up already? If he was able, he could probably look over the syllabus for that new class he was asked to teach and -

Fuck. Despair and shame flooded his body once again. He shut his eyes against the memories of last night, desperately gritting his teeth to try and ward against the bile that threatened to make an appearance. No good - he stumbled to the bathroom and barely made it to the toilet before dry heaving. Jim trembled and leaned his forehead against the cool porcelain. For about two seconds he actually considered running away, never having to face Spock again, just leaving in the middle of the night for some galaxy far, far away. But no - he couldn’t. Not really. He liked Spock: in fact, he might even love Spock. And besides, running away never solved any of his problems before.

Jim forced himself to shower and brush his teeth, carefully drafting a plan in his head. First, he would get breakfast; then, go to Spock’s room and apologize profusely and explain himself. No, he couldn’t do that. He’d probably collapse and get all emotional and Spock would send him away. Okay, maybe if he invited Spock to eat lunch with him - that way he could have even more time to plan what he was going to say. Yeah, that was a good idea. And if they had a picnic, ate somewhere that was relatively private instead of the kitchens where anyone could overhear them, he could probably get everything out of the way without too much difficulty.

And if Spock didn’t take him after all? Well, he thought, shrugging a jacket over his shoulders, he wouldn’t blame him.

Briefly, he considered staying in his room to grade papers, letting the pricks of hunger in his stomach be penance for his foolishness, but even as he thought about it he knew it was no use. He’d have to get out sometime. Better now when there was no one but the servants awake, and better to get some food in him before he looked at Spock and passed out from nerves and an empty stomach.

He trudged to the smallest kitchen in the East wing, even though it was a full floor below him, just because he knew that now - 0543, according to his wrist-chronometer - it would be empty, and just now he didn’t feel like meeting anyone. The door, slightly ajar, didn’t catch his attention in time, and he looked up to see Spock standing there, a plump, red apple in his right hand and a conspicuous bulge in his cheek.

Jim’s face flushed. Spock blinked, then swallowed the bite of apple.

“Spock.” Jim’s voice was weak, raspy.

Spock simply inclined his head, said, “Prince James,” blankly, and continued to stare.

The silence stretched between them, uncomfortable and heavy. Jim desperately tried to form words, but his traitorous voice refused to say anything. Eventually it was Spock who broke the silence.

“I will take my leave,” he said, and bowed slightly even as he moved toward the door.

“No,” Jim blurted, grabbing Spock’s elbow.

It was not much contact - just Jim’s hand on his arm through two layers of clothing - but Spock had found in the short time they had known each other that Jim projected his emotions loudly and forcefully, possibly without even knowing it. He idly wondered if his mother had had to train herself to keep her emotions in check, or if Jim was singular in the passion of his emotions. Instead of ruminating further, he shook off the offending hand.

“I just meant - please,” Jim said. Spock met his eyes. He looked vulnerable, scared, maybe a little helpless.

“Yes, Your Highness?” Spock said politely, and he knew it was low, knew it by the slope of Jim’s shoulders and the press of his lips. But even though it was irrational - even emotional - he still felt satisfaction soothe the sting Jim had left behind last night.

Jim sagged and put his hands in the Academy-issued jacket pockets. “Spock, I - I need to apologize to you,” he said, his voice so soft the Vulcan had a hard time hearing it. “I didn’t mean - I should have… told you. I should have. I’m - can I - could I make it up to you?”

Spock raised one eyebrow.

“Please, I’ll tell you - I’ll explain everything,” Jim rushed on, dropping his gaze to the kitchen floor. He kicked at the tile under his toes. “But if - if you don’t want to, I get it. I do. I just wanted to say… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have… run out. Like I did. I’m sorry.”

Spock rested his hands together in a contemplative mood. He did desire an explanation for Jim’s irrational behavior last night, but he was also hurt - something he hesitated to admit to himself. Still, he had committed to marrying Jim, and would not withdraw his agreement simply because of hurt feelings. Surely he could be more rational than a Human on this point.

“That would be acceptable,” Spock said. Jim’s head jerked up as if surprised.

“Really? Good!” he said, and hated the blush on his cheeks. “I - would you - we could meet in the garden again? If - if you wanted. Or somewhere else. Just… I was thinking - probably - it would probably be best if… for privacy, you know?”

Spock didn’t say anything. When Jim looked up, he was staring back impassively, waiting. He ground his teeth together. The anxiety that racked his stomach rolled like a thunderstorm. Black points formed in Jim’s vision. He had to concentrate on drawing in oxygen and then releasing it. He blinked when he heard his name, said,

“Lunch? Yes? Okay.” Then he was stumbling out of the kitchen.

Spock blinked once more. It was possibly the strangest interaction he had ever had with a Human.

As Jim had not set an exact time that he wanted to meet, instead running back out into the hallway like a frightened child, Spock approximated that they would meet in the garden at noon, as that was typically when Humans valued eating a midday meal. He spent the remaining 6.25 hours working on his research, turning from the earlier project of dulki crystals to the practical application of maintaining a Vulcan-like garden in San Francisco. His studies led him to believe that soil from Vulcan would need to be imported; likewise, some type of artificial biome would be necessary for the cultivation of native plants. Any species brought over to Terra would require very little water, of which this planet had an abundant supply. Further, he mused, he would likely be the only visitor to this garden. It would most likely not require structures Humans considered necessary - chairs, benches, fountains.

Of course, he refused to admit to himself that this work was simply a distraction from the pressing matter of Jim. Jim in his lap, panting into his mouth, his body writhing against Spock’s own, his hands on Spock’s face. Jim projecting anger and shame through their skin contact like barbs that physically punctured Spock’s shields. Jim running out of his room without the chess set, not looking behind. Jim in the kitchen this morning, shaking and pale and quite clearly distressed, stammering and shifting his body back and forth. Jim turning out the room once more, his eyes unfocused and breathing unsteady. Jim. Jim. Jim.

It was unbecoming to obsess over anything, much less an intended husband with whom he had interacted exactly seven times previously. It was not Vulcan of him. It was… harder to keep his thoughts focused as the hours passed by.

At 1200 hours, Spock rose from his desk and walked with I-Chaya by his side to the garden. The Vol Dur guards were more discreet than humans, concealing themselves always ten feet away. Human guards, it seemed, desired to ward off danger by irritatingly plastering themselves to their ward’s side. Spock curtly requested privacy. The two human guards glanced at each other uncomfortably before allowing Spock to step around them and into a tree-lined lane that led him directly into the garden.

When he found the clearing in which they first spoke together, Spock paused. It was much smaller than he remembered. Perhaps darkness made the space feel larger and more mysterious. Now it felt cramped with hedges all around and winding flowers over looming trellises. Even the fountains seemed smaller.

Jim sat on the same bench, hunched over his lap, head in his hands. I-Chaya happily trotted over to him and nudged his hip with a huge, wet nose. Jim looked surprised, but a genuine smile broke across his face when he saw the sehlat. Spock drew in a quick breath - although it had only been 14.59 hours since he had last seen Jim’s smile, it was as though he had forgotten what it looked like; the way it curved his lips, the way his chin and left cheek dimpled, the way his blue eyes sparkled and crinkled in the corners.

He followed I-Chaya, taking measured and even steps to stand before Jim. Schooling his features into placid indifference, he greeted his betrothed.

Jim looked up. He had run away so fast from the kitchen earlier that he hadn’t even bothered to get breakfast. All morning he’d rushed through paperwork, holding off on replicating even some fruit. He told himself it was because he was too busy, but he knew the truth. Sam did too, by the way he finally forced Jim to drink some water when he found his younger brother buried in textbooks, miserably typing away at a padd.

And even though he had been looking forward to eating lunch all day, he now felt his stomach sour and pitch.

“Hi,” he said, then dropped his gaze. He scratched the top of I-Chaya’s head. “I’m… glad you came.”

Something in Spock wanted to point out that Jim outranked him and he therefore was obligated to come, wanted to be cruel and hurt Jim. Instead, he inclined his head.

Jim slid off the bench and sat next to the panting sehlat. “I brought a picnic,” he said, patting the grass on the other side of I-Chaya. Spock hesitated for a moment. It was undignified to sit on the ground when another suitable seat was available, but he also did not wish to offend his human host. Even when he has offended me, an insidious voice said in the back of Spock’s mind. He pushed the thought back and settled himself on the grass.

They didn’t speak at first; Jim just brought out the sandwiches he packed - peanut butter and honey for Spock, turkey and tomato for himself - and the sides the cook packed - sliced apples, sweet tea, green salad with walnuts and red peppers. They ate in silence, Spock frowning when Jim slipped I-Chaya pieces of turkey when he thought Spock wasn’t looking.

“Jim,” Spock said finally, putting his salad down. The Human prince had not eaten very much, had in fact stared morosely at the ground for the majority of the 12.1 minutes they sat together on the ground. Jim looked at him with a mixture of alarm and relief.

He stared at Jim for another 30 seconds before blinking. He wanted to sigh, but to do so would be all too human, so he settled for putting his hands on top of his knees.

“You wished to speak with me,” he prompted. Jim bit his lip and put the rest of his sandwich down. I-Chaya leaned over his lap and snuffed at the tempting treat, but Spock laid a firm hand across his back and the sehlat retreated, practically pouting.

“Yeah,” Jim said, absently scratching at I-Chaya’s ears. “Yeah, I… I need to ap-apologize to you. For before. For last night.”

He drew in a deep breath. Spock remained still. Jim wondered if he could die being crushed under the weight of his fiance’s gaze.

“I - well, I guess. I mean, I should probably - most stories start at the beginning,” Jim rushed. He bit his lip again. Spock merely blinked at him.

“So - uh, but, first, you should know… well, if you decided… if you changed your mind, about us getting married,” Jim motioned vaguely from his chest to Spock’s, “I won’t - I wouldn’t mind. Well, I would mind, because I like you - obviously, but… I wouldn’t be mad. Or upset. Or whatever the Vulcan equivalent is. Bec-because it’d be logical, you know, if - if you decided to marry someone else. Another human. Or a Vulcan. Or anyone, really, I don’t know if you have - have a preference, or whatever. Just - I just wanted you to know -”

“Jim,” Spock interrupted. He exhaled deeply as Jim continued to stare at the ground. At least now he was not rambling. “I do not wish to be married to another. I only wish…” Now he found his eyes wandering over Jim’s creased face, and he felt his own concern wash over I-Chaya’s as he leaned into the human’s touch. “I only wish to understand,” he said, soft and low. He felt tempted to put a hand on Jim’s knee. He restrained himself, but barely. The feelings of wounded bitterness had ebbed. They were replaced by something warmer, protective, sensitive to his own feelings as well as Jim’s. Strange, but not altogether unpleasant.

“Okay,” Jim said after a moment. He nodded, something final about the movement. He let a deep breath out. Spock saw Jim’s hands shake.

“Okay,” he said again, and then rolled his shoulders. “Okay, so, how - how much do you know about… Tarsus IV?”

Spock blinked at the seeming non sequitur. “There was a Human colony on Tarsus IV, occupied by 8,000 human residents. More than half were murdered by the governor, Kodos, after a food shortage was discovered, because of his beliefs in the pseudoscience of eugenics.” He recited the history with little emotion, knowing, just as every child in the Federation, essential facts about a terrible tragedy which was generally overshadowed by other, more gruesome tragedies. Unfortunately, the Vulcan learned early on that Humans, while certainly one of the most emotional species in the Federation, were not the only ones susceptible to greed, fear, rage, or envy. Those were universal, and they were the root causes of disasters across galaxies near and far.

“Yeah, that’s - that’s the basics,” Jim said. He wiped his hands on his knees and licked his lips. “I was there, Spock. I - God, those textbook answers just don’t even come close, you know? I can’t - I had to watch, Spock, all those people - he just… killed them. All. I can’t stop seeing them. I survived because I was royalty. Pretty bullshit reason to be alive. Kodos didn’t - he wouldn’t kill me because I could be a bargaining chip. You know? It’s so fucked.”

“Jim,” Spock murmured, reaching his hand out. Jim shied away from his touch, eyes focused on the ground in front of him.

“Me and these other kids, we all stuck together. There were fifteen of us, in the beginning. We hid. But Kodos’ men - they never caught us, but - I mean, hunger is more efficient, you know?” He laughed, but it was a hollow sound, a croaking from the back of his throat.

“Jim,” Spock said again, his voice more insistent. I-Chaya whimpered and slunk away, settling himself behind his master to hide from Jim’s potent emotionalism.

“So then there were just nine of us,” Jim continued, and Spock wondered if he had heard him at all. “And then - I - God, I was so stupid - I got caught with another boy, my friend Tommy, on a food run when we were trying to steal food from the old governor’s mansion. And they - they brought us in front of this huge crowd. God, they looked so - they all had beautiful clothes, and they were clean and looked fine, just fine, like they were dropped on Tarsus without knowing about the food shortages, and - I mean, how would you feel? And Kodos made this big speech about - about food rations and saving all the best. Natural selection. Fuckin’ asshole. And then -”

Jim took a shuddering breath. Spock leaned forward, but the Human prince just shook his head and glared at the grass.

“And then they - they just shot Tommy. In the head. Right there. I - I see it all the time, still. I thought - I really hoped they would do the same to me. But he - Kodos, he wanted something like me in his back pocket just in case. He just had me whipped. And all those people, they just… stared. They watched.”

“Jim,” Spock stopped him, putting a heavy hand on his knee. Jim jerked away, but Spock held on. “Please, ashal-veh, you do not need to speak of this anymore. Not for me.”

“No, Spock, I have to,” he replied, his voice weary. He gestured vaguely with his hands. “I have to. You don’t - you don’t know, yet, what you signed up for. I’m - you’re getting married to me. And me is - well, I’m fucked up. I - I - I just need you to know.”

Spock held his gaze, then squeezed his knee. “Alright, Jim,” he whispered. His hand did not move.

Jim let go of a deep breath he didn’t know he was holding. “After - after that,” he continued, “it wasn’t very long until the Federation showed up. My dad sent like, an armada. Bones fixed me up but… I asked him not to remove the sc- the scars. I dunno. I feel like I need to keep them. For everyone else who… who didn’t make it. So I - well, yesterday - last night - I couldn’t - when you - I just -”

A whimper escaped his throat. He swallowed and closed his eyes. Jim felt Spock’s hand squeeze his knee reassuringly, felt him hesitantly shifting to sit closer, felt his breath, warm and steady, brush over his forehead.

For a moment, neither of them said anything. Spock had no idea what to do. He almost wished, fleetingly, that his mother was here - she would know what to say to comfort this Human, would almost certainly make him feel comfortable and safe. He felt lost, heavy with Jim’s confession. Through the fabric of his pants, Spock could feel Jim’s limbs tremble. His breathing was erratic and shallow. Suddenly he knew exactly what Amanda would do if it was him struggling with the weight of his emotions.

Spock took a steadying breath, then lifted his right hand to the side of Jim’s face. Staying away from his meld points, he cupped Jim’s cheek and lifted his face so he could look at Spock. When their eyes met, Jim’s watery and unfocused, Spock leaned their foreheads together and began breathing deeply, watching Jim intently, urging him with a look to follow along. After a few moments Jim caught on, started breathing with Spock. Over the next 90.5 seconds, Jim’s breathing calmed, latching onto Spock’s rhythm.

He felt his mind slow, following his body’s lead; the thumping of his heart felt calming. Jim had closed his eyes, but could feel Spock right in front of him - steady, firm, waiting. His warm hand still cupped Jim’s cheek. He leaned into the touch, then cringed, remembering all of a sudden touch telepathy. Spock just ran his thumb over Jim’s cheekbone, reassuring him of his presence, and pressed their foreheads together more firmly. Jim wanted to cry.

“Jim.” Spock’s voice was low, grounding. “Jim, look at me. Please,” he added hastily.

Eyes blinking open warily, Jim found Spock’s gaze locked onto his own. He shivered a little, then tried to pull away, mumbling “sorry, sorry.” But Spock didn’t let him go. He held on tighter, his other hand coming to stroke Jim’s side and still him.

“Jim, I…” It was discomforting, not to know what to say, but Spock swallowed and tried his best. “I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I did not know.”

“I know,” Jim whispered back. “That’s - I should have told you, before…” His voice trailed off. He wanted to laugh at himself for not being able to say before I nearly fucked you on your couch, but it would probably come out hysterical; he would lose control of his voice before he could get a word out.

“I am to blame, Jim,” Spock said, his grip tightening just slightly. “I am to blame, not you. I should have read your emotions when we touched, I should have asked for permission. I have harmed you, and for that I am so very sorry, Jim. And, although it is illogical to wish for the past to be changed, or to wish for a different set of experiences in our past, as it cannot be altered... I find myself sad that you lived through what you did, on Tarsus IV.”

Stirring slightly in his firm grasp, Jim looked questioningly in Spock’s eyes. He sounded genuinely apologetic, sorry in a way that no one had been for him before.

“I don’t want your pity,” he said. His voice quavered and he tried to pull away again, but Spock had anchored him firmly and didn’t let go.

“No, Jim,” he whispered, and - yes, there were tears in Spock’s eyes. Those very Vulcan, very human eyes. “You misunderstand me. I do not pity you, though I am sure many have in the past. I simply…” he thought he might be pushing a boundary, felt his stomach twist and his tongue thicken as he said, “I simply wish the best for you. For your happiness, for your well-being. It is as important to me as my own.”

Jim blinked. “Spock?” he asked, his voice a matching whisper.

“Yes, Jim?”

“Can I kiss you right now?”

Spock’s eyes crinkled in the corners, and he leaned forward to close to slight gap between them, pressing their lips together.

“Can you read my thoughts?” Jim asked when they separated.

Spock cocked his head slightly, releasing Jim’s cheek and leaning back, wary.

“No, that’s - it’s okay, Spock,” Jim said, chasing after his hand. He held it gently between his two cooler hands, basking in the warmth of his bare skin. “I want you to.”

“Read your thoughts?” Spock asked, uncertain. His breath hitched when Jim mindlessly ran his fingers over Spock’s knuckles. Jim hummed in agreement.

“That is not… exactly what is done,” Spock said, his mind blanking with pleasure as Jim rubbed his thumb in Spock’s palm. The words sounded flat and lame as he replayed them in his head. “I mean - humans do not accurately have language to reflect a Vulcan mind meld.”

“Oh?”

“Indeed.” Spock withdrew his hand so he could focus on his words. “If you truly would like to, I could -”

“Yes,” Jim said, cutting him off. He blushed. “I just mean - I think - well, maybe I could talk more better if you were in my head. Better, not more better. I know Standard. The language. I know it.”

The familiar not-smile of Spock’s played on the corners of his lips. He lifted his hand and stroked the side of Jim’s face with two fingers, a Vulcan kiss that traveled from his temple to the slight cleft in his chin. He kissed Jim on the lips again, giving in to the sweet temptation. He felt Jim’s smile under him, felt his emotions playing against his skin - affection, anxiety, fear, hope - felt the cool skin of the Human prince under his hand as he lifted his fingers to meet Jim’s meld points.

“My mind to your mind,” he whispered. “My thoughts to your thoughts.”

Spock felt dizzy, closed his eyes against a tsunami of emotion. He had never experienced this before - never, even when he had melded with his mother as a younger boy. Breathtaking and a little terrifying, it felt like he was flying and falling, all at the same time. Jim’s mind was - well, it was marvelous, brilliant, colorful, trembling with passion and life, so very un-Vulcan.

And Jim: Jim was astounded. He had learned about Vulcan melding, of course, from the delegation. But it was so different from anything he’d imagined. Spock’s mind was one with his. They were poured together, sliding against and holding each other in a way that felt more intimate than sex. Jim felt electric and numb all at the same time.

Spock’s focus shifted and Jim gasped - it was like he was being pulled apart in the sweetest way, known and seen. Spock probed gently at Jim’s memories, asking without words, may I?

At first Jim struggled, threw up walls to keep Spock out and him safe, only moments later remembering begrudgingly that he’d asked for this. Slowly, Jim led him to the first memory. It was one he came back to lovingly whenever he most needed comfort.

George projected a 3-dimensional holo in Jim’s room when he was a toddler. It was of his mother hugging Sam, her very pregnant belly, full of Jim, holding the eldest boy up. Sam was five in that picture, laughing and carefree as a young boy should be, holding tightly to his mother and looking at her with an adoring gaze. Jim loved looking at that holo. George sometimes sat down with him when he had a bad dream. They would look at the projection together, and Jim could, at times, get his father to talk about Queen Winona, about their lives together before she died. Usually, however, they sat in silence and gazed up at Jim’s mother, both wondering what their lives would be like if she was still here.

Spock watched the memory with deep sadness. He had always pushed his own mother away, distancing himself from her very Human nature that sought to touch, to affirm her love, to wipe away tears and hug. It pained him to watch the prince’s memories of struggling without his mother.

Then another memory - Jim turned them to this one quickly, almost aggressively. Spock’s breath caught. It was bright, too bright, the sun hurting his eyes. He saw George standing there with Sam. Jim was before them, tugging at a backpack on his shoulders.

“We’re not sending you away for good, Jim,” George said. His tone was curt. “It’s just until you get a handle on your... behaviors.”

“Whatever,” Jim muttered, plucking at the straps of his backpack. Jim was lean and small, maybe thirteen years old. Big brown freckles dotted his face.

Sam stepped forward to hug Jim. “This is practically a vacation, anyway,” he said with forced cheer. “A whole year away from us on a Terran colony? Sounds like a dream.”

Jim glared at Sam. “You just want to get rid of me,” he accused, looking from his brother to his father. “You don’t care about me, you just want me out of your lives. So I’ll stop fucking everything up.”

“Watch your language, son,” George snapped, stepping closer to Jim. His hands flexed as he took a deep breath. With a tone of resigned weariness, he said, “I know you think I’m just sending you away -”

“Because you are.”

“- but I can’t just let you keep this… behavior up. I mean, Jesus, Jim, these pranks are going to keep escalating until someone gets killed.”

“So you send me away to be someone else’s problem,” Jim said flatly. “Mom wouldn’t send me away. She wouldn’t make me leave.”

George stared at him, eyes dark and flashing. “Get on that goddamn shuttle and don’t come back until you’re ready to act like a prince,” he said. Spock could see his hands shake, could hear the tremor in his voice as he spoke. He saw the way Sam’s gaze dropped to the ground, felt the anger and shame rise on the hot air between the three of them as Jim slowly walked to the waiting aircraft.

Again Jim shifted the focus of his mind so that they looked on another memory. He looked about the same age, limbs gangly and features sharp with pubescent angles as baby fat melted away. Jim was hunched behind a boulder, the backpack from before heavy on his shoulders and a baby cradled gently in his arms. His eyes were wide, breath shaky. The ground beneath him was soft and squelched where he shifted his weight. Spock felt his gaze drawn down, until he saw deep red pools eddying at Jim’s feet.

Even the ground bled, he heard Jim think sadly through the meld.

Spock wanted to close his eyes, wanted desperately to leave this place, but Jim had brought them here for a reason. He suppressed a shudder and watched the memory unfold.

Jim flitted from behind the boulder to a copse of trees, then moved swiftly and silently into deeper woods. He found a low cave and whistled once. Immediately a swarm of children surrounded him, eyes glassy and bright.

“What did you bring us, Jim?” one girl asked, her face open and eager.

“I found this,” he said softly, holding the baby out enough so that the rest of the children could see. Her face reddened and scrunched up, but she didn’t cry.

An older girl, maybe twelve, looked at Jim with worry.

“Oh, Jimmy,” she said.

“Don’t worry, Annalise,” he cut her off. “I brought food for us and her. I couldn’t leave her behind. There was no one else.”

He slung the backpack to the ground and watched the younger children rush at it for their rations. Annalise just looked at him, her eyes big and sad. When the children sat down to eat, she finally asked:

“What’s her name?”

Jim smiled down at the baby as she opened her eyes, fixing him with a glare.

“Valery,” he said. “That’s what they put on her door. Baby Valery.”

Spock blinked and the scene changed again. He knew instinctively through the meld that not much time had passed - six months, maybe - but in this memory Jim was no longer lean, no longer carried himself with an attitude of swagger and false confidence. Now he was painfully skinny and wore a loose tunic over a ragged, too-large pair of pants held up by rope. He stood next to three other children, one of whom held baby Valery. The five of them stood lined up, bookended by large guards in front of an enormous shuttle.

Jim was past feeling fear. He felt numb, and only wished for all of it to be over soon.

But instead of Kodos emerging from the shuttle, it was George. And then Sam. Jim fell to his knees in despair. He had wanted to die.

The other children cried in relief and thanked King George for saving them, were carted off to be tended to by doctors arriving in smaller shuttles around the city, but Jim stayed where he was. Spock wanted nothing more than to run to him, to press him to his chest and stroke his hair and never let him go, to reassure him that all was well and all would be well - but this was just a memory.

George and Sam looked down at Jim. They spoke to him, but Spock couldn’t hear what was said. He realized that it was because Jim didn’t hear what they said. Shock had overwhelmed him. Eventually Sam picked him up and carried him to Doctor McCoy, who looked furious and heartbroken. Sam never left his side. George came and went.

The memory shifted. Jim was older, had filled out, was no longer skinny or lean or short - indeed, he was tall and muscular, his skin golden and haloed by sunshine, hair perfectly coiffed. He wore a perfectly tailored gray suit, and even though it was a memory Spock still wanted to ravish him in it. He felt Jim’s amusement through the meld but couldn’t find it in himself to be sorry.

“Jim, which one should I go with?” Sam’s voice came from behind a paper privacy screen. He popped his head over it and held up two ties. One was garishly bright orange, and the other was a muted navy. Jim glared at him but said nothing.

“I just couldn’t decide,” Sam mused, looking up at the orange. “This one really brings out my eyes, but the blue seems like something dad might wear. What do you think?”

Jim snorted but again said nothing.

“When I’m king, I’m going to ban this dumb holiday,” Sam said as he ducked behind the screen. “I hate having to stand in front of all those crowds and talk about how brave mom was and how proud we are of her legacy. What was it you wrote a few years ago? ‘Our grief should not be for public consumption; our loss is not your feel-good story.’ Fuck. That was good, Jim. I’m going to put it in the public declaration when I ascend the throne.” He stepped out and toward Jim with the orange tie around his neck. He looked in the mirror and gave his little brother a rakish smile. Jim just shook his head and grinned back, then replaced the orange tie with the navy.

Sam allowed him to knot the blue tie around his neck with an excessive amount of grimaces and exclamations that “you’re hurting me, Jim!” but Jim just swatted his hands away and kept working. When he was done, Sam analyzed his appearance in the mirror once more.

“You do a good job, Jimbo,” he said after a moment. Jim rolled his eyes and walked away, but Sam caught his shoulder before he could leave.

“Wait - Jim. I’m sorry. I really do appreciate your help.” Sam paused. Jim rolled his eyes and watched him expectantly. “I know I’m not the best big brother to you. Shit, when am I ever? But I wanted you to know I - I won’t push you to talk again, not until you’re ready. I shouldn’t have said anything in front of dad yesterday. I’m sorry.”

Jim hesitated, then nodded and sighed. Sam clapped his arm good-naturedly and led them out the door. As they wandered through the halls, probably slower than they should, Sam rambled about the speech he was going to make, about the new girl he was seeing from Starfleet, about how garish all those old paintings of their ancestors were.

When they finally joined King George in the foyer, Jim seemed relaxed, smiling and even laughing at some of Sam’s jokes.

“Dad,” Sam greeted the king, and Jim gave a slight bow.

“Boys,” George said gruffly. He looked over Sam, gauging his readiness for such a momentous occasion.

“Your speech is ready?”

Sam simply nodded.

Their father’s gaze slid to Jim, uncomfortable and bored. “And are you going to read your mother’s poem this year?”

Jim stiffened and shook his head. Sam put his hand on Jim’s shoulder and said,

“Dad, we talked about this. Jim’s not ready yet.”

George sighed. “Sam, being part of the monarchy means not being ready for a lot of things; yet we must be prepared for whatever comes our way. This,” he waved his hand at Jim vaguely, “is simply not an option. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, not mute.”

Spock hardly noticed the shouting match between George and Sam in the memory. He could feel waves of boiling anger and tried to calm Jim down, only to realize that it was his anger that overwhelmed him. He extracted himself from the meld as gently as possible, opening his eyes to find Jim’s face tear-streaked and pale before him.

“Spock,” Jim breathed, his hand resting on Spock’s shaking fingers. “It’s okay, I’m here.”

And Spock realized then that he was trembling, saying Jim’s name over and over like a prayer. He kissed Jim, reassuring himself that the prince really was here, grounding himself in the reality of Jim’s lips, the way his mouth opened so easily to let Spock in. He cupped Jim’s face in his hands and wiped away tears that spilled onto his cheeks.

“Jim, I - I am honored that you would share your mind with me,” he murmured when he could find the words. Jim smiled at him, so bright and painful, and tears welled up in his eyes once more.

“I should be thanking you. I don’t - I couldn’t’ve explained half of that with words.”

They sat for a time, foreheads pressed together, simply breathing in and out as the sun shone on their backs. Eventually Spock stirred and nuzzled his nose against Jim’s.

“That last memory,” he murmured, “you were mute for a time?”

Jim winced slightly, and Spock would have missed it if he was not as close as he was. “It was after Tarsus,” he explained quietly. “I couldn’t… I didn’t talk for, like, six years. I kinda - I thought - maybe I’d forgotten how. That memory was at the, uh, end. Sam… Sam helped, a lot.”

Spock ran his thumb over Jim’s plush lower lip, then dragged his eyes up to meet the Human’s.

“And now?” he asked.

“Now I… I just stutter, a lot,” Jim said with a small smile. “My brain - my mouth is - I’m, uh, not fast enough. But I do say words. A lot. Too much.”

“I find that I am not averse to hearing your voice,” Spock replied softly.

“You are a goddamn sweet talker,” Jim grinned, and kissed him again. When they separated, Spock found that I-Chaya was hovering nearby, waiting patiently for some more treats. Jim was happy to oblige despite Spock’s protests. It was only after the golden-brown sehlat had consumed six pieces of turkey and almost an entire apple in one bite that Spock’s scolding finally caught up with Jim.

They separated when Lady Amanda and Sarek - and their retinue, made up of three Vulcan ladies-in-waiting - wandered through the garden. Jim stiffened and shied away from Spock when he saw the formidable Ambassador, excusing himself quickly, saying he had “stuff and things” to do before gathering the picnic supplies and scurrying away. Spock only barely masked his amusement.

Jim was almost out of sight before he turned around and blurted,

“Chess tonight?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Spock saw his mother watching him intently. “Is 2100 acceptable?” he asked, gravely folding his hands together in a meditative pose, as if he actually had to consider if he would like to meet Jim for any reason whatsoever..

“‘S perfect,” Jim said, and with a wave he disappeared around the corner.

“I must go prepared to meet with King George and the High Council representatives, my wife,” Sarek said after Jim was well out of earshot of even the keenest-eared Vulcan. His gaze rested lovingly on Amanda’s. He extended two fingers to her, which she met with a sweet smile. Spock and the ladies-in-waiting looked away; the tips of his ears and cheekbones blushed bright jade at the public display.

When Sarek left with one of the retinue, Lady Amanda regarded Spock with her wide, hazel eyes. He was about to excuse himself when she tilted her head and asked if he would walk with her for awhile. Spock could rarely say no to his mother, unless it regarded physical affection, and readily agreed.

They walked together in silence, the two servants trailing behind a respectful - and exact - 15 feet for only 4.5 minutes before Lady Amanda took a deep breath.

“So, how are you liking Terra so far, my son?” she asked, her voice light. Spock glanced at her sideways, his cheeks blushing again slightly as he remembered the last time he was asked that question.

“I find it adequate.”

“And how do you find Prince James?”

Spock considered her question as they stepped through an arch covered in ivy and blooming flowers. His mother, as a Human, was rarely as direct as a Vulcan would be, but her questions appeared to have some point.

“I find him satisfactory,” he said cautiously.

Lady Amanda laughed, the sound startling him. “Satisfactory?” she asked, looking up at him with twinkling hazel eyes. “Is that all?”

Spock looked down at her fondly, and she felt her heart burst a little in her chest. No longer a young boy grasping onto her skirts, her son was a young man, mature, independent, fiercely intelligent, and about to be wed. He was also quite a bit taller than her now, and she only protested slightly when he leaned down to kiss the top of her head softly.

“More than satisfactory,” he said, his lips curling to settle in the secret smile she loved.

Her eyes softened as she watched him. They walked side by side, the servants trailing behind.

“You love him,” Amanda said after a few minutes, tilting her head to catch his reaction.

He blushed and looked away sharply.

“Mother, I have hardly met Prince James. To find him more than satisfactory is not indicative of… of love.”

Amanda laughed again, quiet, gentle. “Honey, I married your Father,” she said, looking up at him once more. “I know what a Vulcan in love looks like.”

Spock ducked his head and pursed his lips. Hesitantly, he said,

“Do you think… does Jim know?”

“Not yet,” Amanda said. She put a hand on his arm, pausing in front of a raised bed of morningstar flowers, hues of pink and purple pinwheeling outward in glorious displays of color despite slightly shriveled petals and sadly drooping heads in the face of a November afternoon.

“Would it be so bad? If he knew?” she asked.

He hesitated. “I am uncertain,” he admitted. “We are to be wed in thirteen days, twenty hours, and fourteen minutes, and I find that Jim - Prince James - is quite fascinating…”

“But you’re not sure if he returns your feelings,” Amanda finished for him. He simply nodded once, averting his gaze once more. Pale, narrow fingers played with a frayed edge on his sleeve where he kept meaning to mend but kept putting off.

“Have you been intimate with him?” Amanda asked.

Spock’s eyes snapped up to meet her laughing gaze. “Mother!” he hissed, feeling a sage flush creep up his neck, face, and ears.

Lady Amanda’s eyes widened with comic innocence, and she shrugged. “I’m just asking,” she said, “it’s not like I’m unfamiliar -”

“Please cease talking,” Spock said, blushing even harder.

“- and you are getting married in a fortnight, which means your wedding night and honeymoon are just around the corner; it’s a big deal to Humans, you know, and being intimate beforehand can ease nerves -”

“Mother, I am removing myself from this conversation,” he said, turning on his heel before he could blush the same color as the leaves on the morningstar flowers.

“Wait, Spock, wait,” Lady Amanda called, laughing, tugging his sleeve and pulling him to a stop. “I’m sorry, don’t leave!”

He huffed and crossed his arms, not looking at his mother. Lady Amanda tried to stifle the grin that threatened to split her face in half, and partially succeeded.

“You’re pouting,” she said.

“I am not pouting.”

“I only meant to say -”

“I shall leave if you speak again of intimacy with Prince James -”

“-that I would understand if you did,” she said, talking over his interruption and ignoring the scowl that crept in the corners of his eyes and at the edge of his mouth. “And it might help answer your question, if you were to…” Amanda trailed off and waved her hands in the air vaguely. Spock felt his face heat again.

“My question?” he asked, disregarding her innuendo.

“If he loves you back,” she said gently.

Spock looked away and placed his arms behind his back. “Physical… intimacy,” he said, blushing more faintly now, “is not contingent upon romantic feelings between people.”

“No, you’re right,” Amanda agreed. “But I’ve seen the way he looks at you, Spock. You should talk to him. And if talking leads to other things -”

“Enough,” Spock said flatly, and walked away.

Amanda laughed again and caught up to him, taking his arm in hers. They walked in silence for another thirteen minutes before parting ways at the foot of the palace stairs. Lady Amanda smiled up at him and told him to think about what she said, then bade her ladies-in-waiting to follow her. Dazed, Spock slipped into autopilot until he found himself in his room, kneeling on his meditation mat, the incense already lit and I-Chaya settled comfortably behind him.

He had much to think about.

Emerging from his meditative trance felt like walking out of deep water. He rolled his shoulders and patted I-Chaya’s soft flank, more tired than before.

He yawned. Spock’s intention was clear to the sehlat, who jumped up and trotted over to the oversized bed. He settled his massive frame at the foot, looking up at his master expectantly. Spock vainly tried to suppress a laugh, then joined I-Chaya, curling up around the warm body.

 

Jim had hurried away, intimidated by Sarek’s impressive eyebrows that hitched up even further on his forehead seeing his son and the prince together. He wondered if Sarek thought they were being illogical - but then again, he decided, both their dads were the ones who set this whole thing up.

He decided to go back to his rooms and grade papers - midterms were just around the corner and he still had two dozen cadets’ practice essays to read through, besides preparing a syllabus for the next semester and working on his thesis, which, honestly, was not that great, but his advisor had praised him for it, and he really actually liked the way it was turning out so far even though he was only 60-some odd pages into it -

“Your Majesty.” Jim was pulled out of his rambling thoughts abruptly by a young guard in front of him. She bowed nervously, eyes wide. “You’ve been summoned to King George’s ready room, Sire.”

“Is there - what’s the matter?” he asked.

“I’m - I don’t know, Sire,” the young guard blinked. “I wasn't told. Just to get you, of course. Sir.”

Jim followed her silently. They padded through carpeted halls, brightly lit with bustling activity - florists called out to one another, caterers clattered dishes around, and everywhere maids and butlers bumped into each other, holding piles of clothing or padds or various decorations that made Jim’s head spin. He’d almost forgotten that his wedding - their wedding - was a big to-do.

Almost.

When they reached the ready room, the guard bowed deeply and opened the door wide. Jim walked through and he could feel every hair on his neck bristle and goosebumps shiver up and down his arms.

Shit, he thought, and smiled politely at his father sitting at his large desk.

King George scowled at him in return, and how it was possible for someone who so regularly exuded bright grins and booming laughter to look like the embodiment of a storm cloud, Jim could never be sure.

“Sit,” he commanded curtly. Jim plopped next to Sam on a small divan against the wall. They exchanged what the fuck is happening right now glances before turning their attention to their father.

“You both are aware by now of the threats I’ve received over the last week,” George stated, turning in his chair to pin them with a blank look. Jim felt uncomfortably like this was some kind of test, one his father used to spring on them when they were kids - Jim, what was the year your grandpa Tiberius piloted a shuttle to the surface of Luna VIII, and what generation of phaser did he use to stun the mighty Poro? Sam, tell me the name of your great-great uncle’s cousin’s half-sister who ensured the survival of K’Orth’es and earned their loyalty for a thousand years and a day? He shifted in his seat to sit on his hands.

“The Vulcan guards were some indication,” Sam said wryly. Jim shot him a warning look but stayed silent. George simply ignored him.

“There have been some… disagreements between Tellurite factions regarding their entrance into the Federation.” George paused to interlock his fingers under his chin, a look of extreme focus furrowing his brow. “Commander Forsythe has been assassinated on Rigel III.”

Sam’s sharp intake of breath was the only sound in the room. The three Kirks sat in the tense silence after George’s declaration, waiting for one of the others to speak first.

“How - how do we know it was the Tellurites?” Jim asked finally, his voice cracking.

George didn’t look at him as he answered. “He was found in his bed with a poison dart sticking out of his heart,” he said simply. “It couldn’t be anyone else.”

“Sure, that’s - that’s - it’s a very ritualistic killing for a Tellurite,” Jim argued, feeling stupid and vulnerable even as he spoke, “but... anyone could have set that up.”

“I agree with Jim,” Sam said, interrupting whatever George was about to say. “How do we know it wasn’t the Klingons, or even a rogue Romulan straying outside of the Neutral Zone?”

“It wasn’t a fucking Klingon,” George snapped. He ran his hand through his hair and stood, facing the large window that looked out over the valley. “I saw the footage myself,” he said after a moment. His voice lowered to a dangerous level. “It was one of the rebel leaders. It was a warning and a threat.”

“Is that it?” Sam asked after a moment of silence, and Jim couldn’t help but be a little impressed by the bored facade he wore. “Forsythe dead because of angry, backwater Tellurites who don’t want to join the mighty Federation?”

George’s eyes narrowed as he regarded his eldest son.

“George Samuel,” he said with an intensity that made Jim shiver. “I expect better of a future king.”

“And I expect better of a goddamn briefing,” Sam shot back, crossing his arms. “What’s next, you got a bad feeling after eating Plomeek soup last night, so you’re gonna call Jim’s wedding off?”

Jim pressed his lips together and felt his arms begin to shake. He hated when Sam goaded his father like this, hated their heated arguments and the rash words spoken between them. He was always caught in the middle, always stuck making peace for one or the other.

“Has the Tellurite gov - government contacted you about it?” Jim asked quickly before George could say something he would regret later.

Both Sam and George turned to look at Jim, as if they forgot he was there.

“Yes,” George said carefully, turning back to the window. “They did. They apologized profusely, offered to send flocks of those little Tak birds that attacked Sam last time he was there, or my weight in emerald -”

“Guess which one he chose,” Sam muttered under his breath.

“-but they assured me that it was a rogue faction leader, nothing serious,” George said, smoothly ignoring Sam. “I, of course, have amped up security, especially since wedding preparations are getting serious. We wouldn’t want an attempt made during Jim’s big day.”

Jim blushed a bright shade of pink and cleared his throat.

“Is there - I mean, I get that - that’s serious, and I’m - I’m really sorry for Forsythe, I know you and he were close -” he motioned to Sam before turning back to his father. “But I - well, isn’t that a little, uh, lean? As far as evidence for, uh, um, assassination plots?”

Instead of answering right away, George tilted his head to look at Sam through slitted eyes.

“You could learn a thing or two about being king from your younger brother,” he said flatly. Jim sagged against the couch. This was the last thing he wanted - to be a source of tension between his father and brother.

“Nevertheless,” George continued, “you’re right. We just received this today.” He waved his hand and a servant brought in a small data chip and a velvet-lined box. She plugged the chip in and placed the box on George’s desk, then silently left the room as a holoprojector whirred to life.

The first video showed George sitting at a table, a small book in his hands. He simply sat, drinking tea, occasionally turning pages. He looked up at one point, spoke to someone off-screen, and then returned to his book.

“That’s it?” Sam asked again, though Jim could see how rigid his shoulders had become.

“That was filmed yesterday morning in my bedroom,” George answered coldly. “No one is supposed to be able to access my rooms, least of all with a camera.”

The video flickered, then changed. It showed Sam and Tela walking hand-in-hand on a busy street filled with vendors and pedestrians.

“The market,” Sam said, his voice hollow and his eyes wide. He stood to get closer to the screen. “But we had security, they had electromagnetic sensors to disrupt recording devices -”

“Wait,” George cut him off.

They watched in silence for a few moments more. A quick flash of movement caught Jim’s eye - a man wandered past the couple, roughly bumped into Tela, and then disappeared into the crowd before Sam could demand an apology from him. George slowed the video down to watch it frame by agonizingly clear frame: the man had taken a something out of Tela’s purse. George opened the velvet-lined box wordlessly.

A tube of ruby lipstick sat inside.

The princes stared at the offending item. Agonizing seconds ticked by as Jim’s brain, feeling sluggish in the light of George’s revelation, processed what this meant. Ultimately, he knew Sam would speak first. He usually did. But when a full minute passed and Sam still hadn’t spoken, Jim risked a sidelong look at his older brother.

Sam’s face was pale, his eyes shut tightly. “I -” he started to speak, but a shudder cut him off.

George’s face turned almost imperceptibly softer. His gaze dropped to the floor.

“I offer my condolences. I felt the same when - what happened to your mother…” his voice tapered off into a whisper.

Shaking his head, Sam stood and paced. “It’s not the same,” he choked.

“No.”

“What are we going to do about it?”

George contemplated his eldest with a calm, sad gaze. “What I wish I had done in your place,” he said. “Tighten security; classify and secure all lines of communication between ourselves, palace staff, the Vulcans; add defensive measures to transport.”

“Isn’t that - uh, not to - I just mean… wouldn’t that be kind of, maybe, a little obvious?” Jim offered. He cowered under Sam’s and George’s combined glares.

“What else do you suggest?” Sam asked, and Jim flinched at the sharpness of his tone.

“Nothing,” he returned softly.

“Do it,” Sam said to George. “And more. If there’s anything we’re missing, I want it done.” He paused and looked back at the screen, then to their father. “Is there more?”

“More?”

“Why isn’t Jim being hunted?”

Hunted. Jim shivered and shrank back into the couch.

George narrowed his eyes. “What makes you think he isn’t?” he asked softly.

Jim could only stare at his hands folded tightly in his lap as he took a deep breath, dark spots clouding his vision once more.

Chapter Text

When they walked out of George’s ready room, Sam and Jim were quiet. Jim wanted to say something - anything - but he couldn’t think clearly. Anxiety blossomed in his stomach and nestled underneath his tongue. When Sam parted ways with a grunt, Jim didn’t even look up. He kept walking until he got to his room, feet to taking him to their predetermined location.

Changing into a T-shirt and jeans was almost too difficult a task. Through bleary eyes he saw that it was already 1745. The day had slipped by quickly, and he realized with a start that he hadn’t eaten anything besides a few bites of turkey sandwich when he was with Spock. Jim punched a code into the replicator hastily - soup and crackers was the safest bet with what Bones called those damn machines - and decided to get some grading done.

When Jim lifted his head three hours later, eyes bleary and hand cramping from writing comments in the margins of his students’ papers - no, the Ferengi Wars were not comparable to the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in the 19th century, and yes, there should absolutely be a works cited page at the end of your twenty-page thesis paper - he had almost completely forgotten about the earlier meeting with his father and brother that inspired such anxiety. He’d also almost forgotten chess with Spock. Shit.

He scrambled down the corridor as quickly as possible, ignoring the wild-eyed looks servants gave him as he mumbled his excuses. Jim arrived at Spock’s door panting, but only two minutes later than he’d promised to be there.

The door opened silently even as Jim lifted a fist to knock.

“Prince James,” Spock began, then hesitated. His eyes narrowed. “Why are you out of breath?” he asked, cocking his head.

“I ran,” Jim said, still breathing heavily. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

Spock merely raised an eyebrow and stepped aside to let him in. He eyed the prince’s flushed face and neck where it disappeared into a soft blue shirt, then averted his gaze when Jim caught him looking.

“So, chess?” Jim asked, grinning shyly.

Spock nodded and ushered him over to the table. Each of the three levels was wood, polished to a gleam from overuse. Jim loved this set. It was his grandfather James’, a wedding gift from his wife.

He spent the first few moves telling Spock the history of the set, chattering away about fond memories he shared with his grandfather in the library or by the fire over games of 3-D chess. At first he thought Spock was politely listening, but when he looked up after checkmating his Vulcan fiance within ten moves, he realized that Spock was frowning at the board and not focused on the game.

“Hey,” Jim called softly, reaching across the table to take his hand. Spock started, then withdrew from Jim’s grasp.

“I apologize,” he said stiffly. “My focus lapsed. What did you say?”

“Nothing, I just - are you, um, are you okay?”

Spock blinked. “‘Okay’ is quite subjective, Jim. What is ‘okay’ to me might not be ‘okay’ to you.”

Jim stared. “Did I do something wrong?” he asked finally.

“No,” Spock said forcefully, then dropped his gaze to his hands resting on the table. “No,” he said, softer. “It is not you, Jim. I simply… find that my mind is unfocused.”

Frowning, Jim leaned back in his chair. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked. “I mean, it certainly - it helped me, when you listened; earlier, you know. I want to be here for you, too, Spock.”

“I - yes,” Spock said, recalling his mother’s words earlier. He shifted in his seat. Shifted again. This was certainly a more uncomfortable scenario than he had imagined in his meditation.

Patient and still, Jim waited across the table. He didn’t want to push even though he could sense that Spock needed to get something off his chest.

“I find that I trust you, Jim,” Spock said, each word heavy with hesitation.

Jim smiled and leaned forward, but remained silent.

“According to my research into human relationships, including my mother’s relationship with my father, it is necessary to be truthful and… and vulnerable with one another in order to maintain one’s bond ties with one’s mate. Today, you told me truths about yourself -”

“Spock, no, wait.” Jim’s smile fell. “No, don’t - I didn’t - you don’t have to do this.”

Tilting his head, Spock simply stared quizzically at the prince.

Jim grunted in frustration and tried again. “I didn’t tell you about - about Tarsus to - I don’t know, make you feel bad, or make you feel like, like, you have to - I don’t know, tell me all your shit just because I told you all my shit.”

“I understand,” Spock said calmly. “I am not sharing anything with you unwillingly.”

“But like, I - it’s not like, quid pro quo,” Jim said, but Spock interrupted him.

“Jim, I would like - it is my wish to share this with you,” he said, not allowing frustration and worry to creep into his voice. “It is logical to share one’s history with a mate, especially since we have not been bonded since young children, as most Vulcans are. And I find that I desire for you to understand me better, just as I now understand you better. Likewise, I do not require your pity; I simply desire to share memories with you to build our… friendship.”

He held his breath after speaking. Vulcans did not have friends as Terrans defined it; from what he understood, Terran relationships were mostly fleeting, shallow. Vulcans, feeling deeply, formed relationships slowly, creating bonds both romantic and platonic that would stand the test of time.

Jim watched him for 15.4 seconds, leaned back. “Okay,” he said. “I - yeah. Tell me.”

Spock exhaled a breath he did not know he was holding, then began, his fingers trembling slightly.

“The majority of Vulcans live based on the principles of Surak, an ancestor of my Father’s house,” he said, settling into a tone that Jim knew well as an instructor. It was the same one he used when he had started teaching, a voice that tried to indicate that he was solemn and knew what he was talking about, a voice that betrayed his underlying tension. “He taught that we should abandon our warrior-like passions and live logically; he is the reason we are no longer slaves to our emotions, but bind up our wildness and seek the path of rationality. Logic, however, is not always sound, and some Vulcans hold onto… traditional ideals.”

Jim stayed still and silent, watching Spock like he was a frightened animal that might run at any moment.

“You know, already, my Human heritage on my mother’s side. I am… unique in all the universe, the only living half-Human, half-Vulcan.” Spock drew in a shaky breath, but continued, determined to unburden himself.

“Some of my peers in school were… unenthused at my presence. They listened to their parents’ ugly words regarding my genetic makeup and treated me differently than other Vulcans. There is an Earth saying that ‘children can be cruel.’ This is true not only for Terran children, but also Vulcan. I frequently found myself taunted by certain classmates in regards to my appearance, my upbringing, my intellect. They found fault with whatever I did or said. Vulcans are not supposed to bring violence upon one another, but they did so to me.”

Jim couldn’t help it. He reached across the table to Spock.

He looked up and saw Jim’s outstretched hand. Logically, he knew that it would be a lewd act to take his fiance’s hand, even in a private setting such as this, for a Vulcan. Was he not, however, telling Jim that he was not a true Vulcan?

Spock took his hand. He ran soft fingertips over Jim’s, sliding down the columns of his fingers until he settled into Jim’s palm like he always belonged there.

“I quickly learned defensive measures, both physical and mental, to retreat from them. When that did not work, I used my words to inflict pain in my own turn, and fists when my anger overwhelmed me. I am… ashamed at having utilized such barbaric methods, especially upon other children.”

“They were fucking bullies, Spock,” Jim said softly, his voice full of emotion. Spock looked deeply into his eyes, squeezing his fingers in slight amusement.

“One of the other teachings of Surak with which I find myself quite fascinated,” Spock said gently, searching Jim’s eyes and face for understanding, “is the concept of IDIC. Have you heard of it?”

Jim shook his head.

“It means ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.’ It is a celebration of beauty in all forms, rejoicing in the chaos of the universe. Imagine it,” Spock said, leaning forward, a dreamy look on his face. “Atoms arranged just so to create a cactus on Vulcan, or a grain of sand in the Forge; or, twist those same atoms to a very slightly different combination, and they might make a Gorn or a book of poetry or the heart of a star. Beauty, worth, truth, Surak maintained, can be found everywhere, because the universe is consistently engendering unique creations out of what is ancient, what has come before.”

I’m marrying a poet-scientist, Jim thought, a gentle smile pushing its way up his face as he listened to Spock teach him. I’m marrying the most beautiful man in the universe.<

Spock must have picked up on his thoughts because he withdrew his hand hastily, points of jade highlighting the sharp edges of his cheekbones.

“Vulcans following Surakian teachings should, therefore, acknowledge the unique aspect of a… person like me,” he said. “However, when faced with something new, even the most logical beings revert to an emotional response. If you recall, when we first… met in the garden,” he blushed just a little, gaze flickering to the golden-brown sehlat where he lay curled up on the carpet next to their table, “I said that I-Chaya had been a constant companion of mine since boyhood. This is true. I was without the companionship of other, similarly-aged Vulcans throughout my life. My mother worried that I might be lonely, but I turned to my studies more thoroughly and became top of my class. When I learned that I was to marry you, I did not anticipate…” here, Spock hesitated, something constricting his throat and making it impossible to speak his deepest thoughts.

“You are… my friend,” Spock said finally, but it came out more like a question.

“Yes,” Jim said immediately, voice hushed and reverent. “I’m your friend. And you’re mine.”

His spine felt like liquid, and Spock slumped slightly in his chair.

“We can at least be that, right?” Jim asked, voice tight. Spock looked up to find that Jim appeared nervous. He frowned and straightened his back, realizing that Jim had misinterpreted his response.

“I mean, I just meant - I’d like to be your friend,” Jim continued, looking down at his hands. “You haven’t - it’s not like you’ve had, like, a lot of friends, because those other Vulcan kids were jerks to you, but I - I want you to feel like we’re friends. Like, we’re getting married, so we should at least - least be friends. Right?”

“I wish to be your friend as well, Jim,” Spock whispered, and, hesitating only a moment, reached his hand back across the table. The prince’s breath hitched, and he watched Spock closely before meeting him halfway.

They sat, unmoving except for the feather-light touches on each other’s hands, for what felt like an eternity.

“Do you wish to marry me?” Spock finally asked. His voice cracked.

“Yes,” Jim said immediately. He hesitated, then asked in a quiet voice, “Do you? Want to… marry me?”

Spock raised his eyes to Jim. “Yes,” he said. He looked away again, stilling his hands, flustered and unsure. “I find that I… have strong feelings regarding you.”

Jim tilted his head and blushed. “Strong feelings?”

“Indeed. My heart rate increases by 4.28% in your presence. I also find myself wishing to speak with you when you are not with me. Additionally, I… I desire to kiss you and hold your hand, even in public, though such behavior is frowned upon in Vulcan society.”

When he glanced up again, Jim looked stunned. He stared, eyes glazed and cheeks rosy.

“You like me?” was all he could ask.

Spock cocked his head, unsure how else his words were supposed to be interpreted.

“I like you too. So much,” Jim said, his voice still faint. “I really… I mean, so much, Spock. And not just because you shared all that stuff with me, about your childhood, or listened to me about… my past. You - I mean - it’s just that with you, I really - you’re so different from everyone else.”

He licked his lips. Spock followed the motion with his eyes, and that was enough for Jim to stand, slowly, to walk around the small table, still holding Spock’s hand, and settle on his lap, legs off to one side. Cupping the Vulcan’s warm cheek in one hand, he pressed in to the hard body beneath him, eyes searching for permission. Spock, beautiful Spock, leaned forward, watching Jim intently, and pressed their lips together.

Jim interlaced their fingers and pressed them to his chest. Something fierce and joyful pressed against his heart, and he felt like he might burst out of his skin. Instead, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the kiss, tilting his head just so and melting under Spock’s tongue.

Spock brought his free hand up to Jim’s back, drawing up to tangle in his golden locks. He pulled away gently, a question in his dark brown eyes.

“What?” Jim asked, panting slightly. He traced an index finger over Spock’s lips.

“Jim, I -” Spock blushed, hesitated. Then he took a deep breath. “Jim, may I see your scars? I wish... to make love to you.”

Jim blushed a deep red.

“I - yeah, I would like that,” he replied, feeling exquisitely vulnerable and uncomfortably warm.

Slowly, their hands worked Jim’s shirt off, tugging it over his head. Spock folded it in half neatly and tossed it onto the floor next to the table. He bit his lip as he took in Jim’s golden chest - he wanted to stare forever at the dusky nipples, the slight pouch of his stomach, the flush that crept down from his face to his neck and pectorals.

Jim was stiff in his lap now, eyes wide and searching. Spock’s gaze wandered up till he met Jim’s, deep brown irises swallowed up by desire.

“So beautiful,” he breathed, running a hand up Jim’s chest and neck to cup his cheek. Jim relaxed minutely to lean down for a kiss, but jerked away when Spock tentatively touched his side where the scars began.

“Sor-sorry,” he gasped, his back arched and muscles locked.

“There is no need to apologize, James,” Spock said. His voice was low, quiet, calming. He brushed Jim’s cheeks with his thumbs and brought his forehead down.

“We will go at your pace,” he said softly, looking deep into Jim’s eyes.

Taking slow and shaky breaths, Jim finally nodded. He took Spock’s hand in his and gingerly led it to the middle of his back, touching raised flesh. Under his fingertips, the skin felt knotted, too thick, and Spock fought his first instinct - to tear his hand away from the alien feeling, to recoil at the foreign nature of the scars - and instead made the ozh’esta against Jim’s spine and pressed light Vulcan kisses to the skin.

Jim kept his eyes on Spock’s the whole time. He watched for signs of disgust, waited for the revulsion he was sure to come; instead, he saw Spock’s eyes soften and wander down his body once more.

With shallow breaths, Jim clung to Spock’s shoulders, trying to relax into Spock’s touch. The warm, thin fingers gently explored every hill and valley of Jim’s flesh, caressing gnarled scars that Jim hid so fearfully for so long. He tilted Jim’s head down with one hand to kiss him languidly, a gentle press of lips and tongue that deepened as Jim opened up to him even further.

When his hands had run over all of Jim’s back, Spock released Jim’s lips with a last nip to his tongue.

“I wish to see you,” he said, and was surprised at how raspy his voice sounded.

Jim shivered and nodded. He stood off Spock’s lap, then turned slowly, fingers fidgeting nervously around his pockets. Spock stood behind him, his eyes taking in the damage done by Kodos’ men. The scars were sickly white, a stark contrast from the golden brown of the rest of his skin. They ran at odd angles to each other, criss-crossing against the broad shoulders and splintering out at his sides. Spock reached out to touch again, pausing when Jim flinched, and resumed his ministrations when Jim stilled once more.

That such beauty had overcome such heinous crimes, that it would be Spock’s and Spock’s alone to cherish and caress forever - the thought was overwhelming. His beloved’s skin, a freckled canvas of gold flesh and white scars, was, to Spock, the most precious piece of art. For Jim, Spock would move mountains. He would traverse galaxies. He would kill - yes, even be moved to violence - on Jim’s behalf. He felt that violence welling up inside him as he considered the rough hand that brought heavy lashes down on Jim’s back. Suppressing it took all his might; if he had half a chance, he would do the very same to the man who harmed his Jim.

He moved closer, pushing all thoughts of violence and bloodshed away for the moment. Spock did not wish for Jim to see that side of him just yet. Instead, he pressed his lips to Jim’s shoulder where his fingers had just been - a Human kiss and a Vulcan kiss, side by side.

“Is this alright?” he asked, pulling away momentarily.

“Uh-huh,” Jim gulped, barely capable of thought as arousal and anxiety fought for his focus.

Spock returned his focus to the marred skin, Human-kissing and Vulcan-kissing each scar until he knelt behind him to reach the last of the marks running down his lower back. He held Jim’s hips in his hands and turned him around.

Jim’s brain short circuited at the sight of Spock on his knees in front of him.

It had occurred to Jim - of course it had - that Spock might have done this before. Might have had sex before with someone else. But until now it hadn’t felt real. Now he felt - what? Jealousy? Anger? Possessiveness? - at the mere thought of someone else touching Spock so intimately, of feeling his breath on their skin, of treasuring the little kisses and moans he made.

“Spock,” he breathed, then groaned embarrassingly loud as his betrothed nuzzled the skin above his waistband and pressed chaste kisses under his navel. The same fingers that only moments ago caressed his back now unfastened the button of his trousers and pulled the zipper down. It seemed far too loud in the quiet of Spock’s rooms.

“Wait,” Jim panted, even though his cock definitely did not want to wait. “Spock, what are you doing? I mean - are you sure about this? You don’t have to, you know. Have you... done this before?”

Spock looked up at him, eye level with Jim’s tented boxers.

“It is my understanding that oral sex is a part of Human foreplay,” he said mildly, raising an eyebrow a fraction of an inch. He paused, then frowned. “Do you not desire it?”

“God, yes,” Jim moaned, ignoring for the moment that Spock hadn’t actually affirmed whether he’d given someone head before. “But I don’t - it’s kind of a lot to ask.”

“You did not ask me to orally stimulate you,” Spock pointed out, “I have simply offered. Would you like me to -”

“Never mind, just - are you sure?”

Spock answered by mouthing at the restrained erection before him, smelling Jim’s musk and sweat and tasting his arousal through the underwear. He hid a small smile in Jim’s pants upon hearing his Human prince groan deeply at the touch. When he looked up, tongue laving hard across the still-clothed shaft, Jim’s head was thrown back in pleasure, throat exposed, haloed in the soft lighting of the room. He looked down and met Spock’s eyes as he pressed a kiss to the hard, still-clothed cock before him.

Sliding his thumbs into the waistband of Jim’s pants, Spock pulled them down slowly, pooling the rough fabric down at his ankles. Then, as he began to repeat the motion with the black boxers, Jim shivered and said a faint, “Wait,” once more.

Restraining his exasperation, Spock simply looked up.

“I know it’s s-stupid,” Jim stuttered, “but I don’t want I-Chaya to see.”

Spock raised his eyebrow at Jim in response. He blushed deeply and defended himself, saying, “It’s weird, Spock!”

“I-Chaya is a sehlat, Jim, and as such his understanding is limited -”

“Every sentient being knows what sex is.”

“- I see no reason to remove him from the room -”

“I didn’t say remove him from the room, I just said I didn’t want him to see. Just - Jesus, put him in the closet or something!”

If Spock were a lesser Vulcan he would have rolled his eyes. As it was, he exhaled 1.79 times louder than normal and rose, leading a patient I-Chaya to the furthest closet, communicating his intent telepathically, and then closed the door.

When he returned to his previous position, on his knees before Jim, he looked up expectantly.

“Sorry,” Jim said, embarrassed but clearly well-pleased. Spock simply shook his head slightly and returned his attentions to removing Jim’s clothing. With a less-than-chaste kiss to his sharp hip bone, Spock dragged the boxers down Jim’s thighs with a steady pull, finally releasing the straining erection.

He slowly took the shaft in his hand and gave it a feather-light stroke, then, maintaining eye contact with Jim, licked the tip softly. Jim bit his lips hard and groaned something between “Spock” and “oh, God” - even his Vulcan hearing could not understand exactly what Jim expressed in that moment. Encouraged, however, by Jim’s reaction, he pressed small kisses to the head, then down the underside of his dick until he reached wiry golden hairs. There he lay filthy, open-mouthed kisses all around the base until it was sufficiently lubricated; Spock stroked the length of Jim’s cock once to be sure, then again because the smooth skin felt so good under his hand.

“Jesus, Spock,” Jim breathed, lips swollen from biting them so hard. “Feels so good, sweetheart.”

As he put his lips back to the cockhead, Spock could not quite help it - he let out a little purr at the endearment. A quirk of Vulcan genetics, many were ashamed of purring; he himself had done his utmost to suppress it since he was seven years old and understood how embarrassing it was. A relic of their ancient feline ancestors, the thrum of pleasure that emanated from their chests was, for many modern Vulcans, simply a reminder of their old, warrior-like ways. For that reason, many considered it useless at best and disdainful at worst.

Jim did not think so lowly of it.

“What the fu-uuuh,” he interrupted himself with a low, drawn-out moan, knees buckling slightly as he pulled at Spock’s hair.

The Vulcan blushed profusely, cheeks and ears dusted jade. His lips, deep sage from kissing and stimulating Jim, pressed together in worry.

“I apologize, it is simply a physical reaction -” Spock said, desperately trying to stop purring. His chest continued to vibrate, and he let go of Jim to breathe deeply and get ahold of himself.

“Wh -? Don’t apologize,” Jim said, out of breath, letting his hands fall from Spock’s head as he backed away. “That was - that was fucking incredible. What’d you do?”

“Purring,” Spock answered, shamefaced. “It is highly illogical, a vestigial reaction from our Vulcan ancestors -”

“Honey, I honestly couldn’t care any less right now,” Jim said, stepping forward cautiously toward Spock. He softly carded his fingers through Spock’s sleek black hair, his eyes bright and blown wide with arousal. “Just do it again, felt so good.”

Spock, purring even louder now with the second endearment, blushed, but leaned forward anyway, licking his lips with anticipation. When he slipped the head just past his lips, Jim groaned again, and his thighs shook with the strain of not thrusting forward into Spock’s mouth.

“So good, so good,” Jim babbled. Vibrations from Spock’s chest met Jim’s cock. Combined with the warm breath and hot mouth, Jim was seeing stars.

Reaching up once again, Spock took the shaft in one hand firmly and gave a slow stroke from tip to base, tonguing the head, enjoying the weight and heat of Jim’s erection in his mouth. He sank further down until he felt it bump against the back of his throat. Looking up, Spock met Jim’s eyes, watching him with awe and sweet bliss.

“Oh, sweetheart, that’s so good. Spock, I - oh, shit,” he gasped as Spock took a deep, steadying breath and pressed his face forward gently, forcing Jim’s length down his throat in a slow glide.

It was too much - the vibration, Spock’s beautiful, hot mouth, the sight of him swallowing Jim down with such ease - it was all too much.

“Spock, ah, Spock, stop,” Jim panted, tugging at Spock’s hair.

He pulled off with a wet popping sound, his breath coming a little quicker than normal at the loss of air.

“Have I done something wrong?” he asked, resting his hands on Jim’s thighs.

Jim laughed. “No, God, no,” he said, pulling Spock to his feet. He kissed him deeply, fingers fumbling at the fastenings of Spock’s robe at his throat. “You’re so good, it’s too - God, you’re so good,” he muttered, pulling buttons and catches apart until he could finally - finally - see the skin underneath.

“Was gonna come,” he explained as he pushed the robe down Spock’s shoulders. His Vulcan gave a shudder, fully exposed to the air - his underclothes consisted of a second, more well-fitted robe under the first - but Jim pressed up against him, mouth working at his throat, one hand at his side and another palming his cock. “Didn’t want it to be over so soon.”

Spock groaned at the exquisite pleasure, arching into Jim’s touch, certain that if his Human kept pressing and grinding that way against him he would come too soon. But Jim took his hand away only moments later, much to Spock’s dual relief and disappointment.

“Bed,” was all Jim had to say before Spock walked him backwards towards the large, overstuffed bed across the room, kissing all over his face and neck even as they bumped into the mattress and tumbled onto it. Jim laughed as he bounced, holding on to Spock’s shoulders; Spock gave a small, secret smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes as he lay down on top of his betrothed. He took in every detail - Jim’s scent of clean sweat and sex, the pliant, cool flesh under his hands, the sound of breathing, short and shallow and needy in the silence of the warm room.

Lowering his head, he kissed Jim deeply and passionately, needing suddenly to get ever closer to his lover, soak in his unmasked joy.

“God, that purring thing is so hot,” Jim gasped once Spock pulled away for air. He stroked Spock’s chest, fingers running over pebbled nipples and dark chest hair. In response, Spock simply purred louder and ground his erection against Jim’s, pulling a moan from the prince beneath him.

“I still wish to make love to you, Jim,” he breathed into his beloved’s mouth. “Would that be acceptable?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Jim panted, throwing his head back and growling when Spock took him in his hand and stroked slowly. He started when Spock grasped his own cock and rubbed them together, peering down to see what in the hell he was feeling.

“Vulcan males produce their own lubricant,” Spock said, voice only slightly strained. He sounded - well, he sounded like he was delivering a lecture, or simply listing off facts over a chess game.

“Christ, that’s - ah, that’s so good,” Jim gasped, dazed and unsure how Spock was managing to form words at the moment.

He felt Spock’s fingers, now wet, move from the head of his cock, trailing down slowly to fondle his balls, then lower to his perineum, then -

“Ooh, Spock, oh Spock, yes,” Jim cried. His hips jackknifed upwards at Spock’s touch.

For his part, Spock could barely think clearly; his index finger was only in Jim’s hole up to the first knuckle, but the tight, velvety squeeze around him was almost too pleasurable to bear. He grit his teeth and forced himself to breathe evenly, then pressed forward gently. He laced his free hand together with Jim’s and pushed it high over his head until they were in a similar position as when they sparred only a week ago.

Jim lifted his hips, encouraging Spock deeper. He tugged Spock’s head down to kiss him hard, too much tongue and saliva but oh, it felt so right and wonderful, and then Spock’s finger crooked upward and further in and Jim was boneless, he was writhing, he was seeing fireworks. Pleasure indescribable coursed through his body, from his toes to the crown of his head, sparking in his groin and lower stomach.

Spock’s purring became even more intense as Jim gaped in a soundless scream, eyes screwed tight. He had found Jim’s prostate. He withdrew his finger to allow Jim a moment to recover, soothing the Human with gentle kisses on his face and chest.

“Holy shit, Spock,” Jim panted, opening his eyes. “Do that again.”

“As I do not desire for you to climax too early,” Spock said with a twitch of his lips, “I believe I will abstain.”

The whine that escaped Jim’s lips would have embarrassed him at any other time, but right now he was desperate. In retaliation, he slid his free hand up Spock’s chest, tweaking one nipple hard. That drew a gasp from his Vulcan fiance, which, by anyone else’s standard, would have been a yelp.

Spock simply squeezed Jim’s hand tightly - too tightly for a Human, but Jim couldn’t complain when his lover slid two fingers inside him, moving slow and sweet and so fucking close to that beautiful spot inside. Soft whimpers and gasps fell from Jim’s lips and he trembled under Spock’s hands. Settled between Jim’s legs, Spock had to concentrate all of his willpower on delaying his own orgasm.

A frantic moan stilled his hand, fingers thick and scissored inside Jim.

“Now, Spock, please, I need you,” Jim panted, spreading his legs even wider.

Spock bit his lip. Jim’s voice had quite the effect on him; if he was not careful, the pleading, broken moaning coming from the prince would draw him to the edge much too soon.

“Jim, I do not think you are quite prepared,” he began, but Jim squirmed under him and begged so sweetly for his cock, tears in his eyes as he keened and groped at every inch of Spock’s skin that he could reach.

Shivering with desire and anticipation, Spock took his erection in hand and spread more lubricant over the length of it. He pressed the head to Jim’s hole, then looked up to see the blissed-out look on Jim’s face. Pressing a tender kiss to Jim’s shoulder, he gently rocked forward until his cock rested just inside.

“More, more, more,” Jim cried, and Spock had to firmly press his hips down so he didn’t buck up and take more than he was ready for.

“I shall take care of you, ashayam,” he murmured, kissing his lover’s temple, his ear, his neck. Spock rolled his hips, a gentle cadence that moved him deeper inside inch by inch until Jim was panting and twitching under him. When his hips were flush to Jim’s, the base of his wide cock fully seated in Jim’s ass, he could only stare down at the Human lying beneath him. They locked eyes for a moment, simply breathing and enjoying the intimacy in being joined so fully.

It was only when Jim whimpered his name and stroked down his side, resting a hand where Spock’s heart beat frantically, that the Vulcan began moving in earnest. He rocked slowly back and forth, moaning when he felt one of Jim’s hands squeeze his own, above their heads, and the other stroking and raking down his side and back, in turns pleasurable and sharp. Their eyes met, blue and brown, Vulcan and Human, and Jim’s adoring gaze held him, set him ablaze.

Spock opened his mouth to speak, to tell Jim exactly how beautiful he was and how much he loved him, to express the depth of his affection, his love, his desire for the wonderful, maddening, mercurial human; his tongue, however, betrayed him, saying only his beloved’s name over and over, a sacred prayer to a sensual god.

“James, James, my James,” he breathed. Beneath him, Jim tightened exquisitely, panting punched-out “ah, ah, ah’s” to the rhythm of Spock’s thrusts.

Far too soon, Spock felt the tightening of his abdomen, fire and lust built up to a crescendo in his groin. When he released inside Jim, his vision went white and he swore he saw galaxies painted on the backs of his eyelids.

When he came down from his high, Spock saw that Jim had also achieved climax, was softening against his own stomach. His eyes were closed and his lips were parted in post-orgasmic bliss. Spock could not resist pressing one kiss after another on his beautiful mouth. He smiled against Jim’s own grin as he felt cool hands roaming over his back, his sides, playfully gripping his buttocks.

“Wow,” Jim said when Spock pulled back to breathe. A gentle smile tugged at Spock’s lips.

“Indeed,” he whispered. Rolling over to his side, he pulled Jim close and felt him tangle their legs together.

“Where’d you even… I mean, not that I’m like, jealous, or, or whatever, but - that was really, really good,” Jim said after a few moments of silence, and Spock made the mental note that Jim’s cheeks were now a deeper red than he had yet seen them.

Spock blinked. “You wish to know how I developed my sexual skills?”

Jim threw his head back as well as he could laying in bed and laughed. “Yeah, I guess I do,” he said.

“I studied all aspects of Terran marriage practices,” Spock told him, running hot fingers up and down Jim’s arm. “There is also the matter of Pon Farr, which all Vulcans are prepared for from a young age.”

“A what-farr?” Jim asked, angling his head to see his Vulcan more clearly.

Spock’s eyes narrowed. “Did the Vulcan delegation not explain the Pon Farr cycle to you?” he inquired, fingers stilling their motions against Jim’s cool skin.

Jim shrugged and said, “I don’t think so. Is it bad?”

Hesitating only a moment, Spock explained the fires of Pon Farr to his fiance, suddenly apprehensive that Prince James might back out of their marriage upon understanding the significance of that ordeal.

Instead, Jim’s eyes widened and he leveraged himself up on one elbow. “You’re telling me that every seven years, we’ll - what, we’ll have to lock ourselves away and have wild sex for days on end?”

Spock frowned. “That is very reductionistic, but essentially, yes.”

He found Jim’s mouth on his the very next second, his body leaning across Spock’s, hands running through his hair like his life depended on it.

“That’s hotter than the purring,” Jim whispered when he finally broke away.

It was as close to bursting into laughter that Spock had ever gotten, and he only barely managed to control himself. Instead, his lips formed an actual, Human grin, smiling like he hadn’t for a very long time. Jim laughed for him, and resettled himself against Spock’s side.

He knew they would have to get up eventually - Spock did not overly appreciate the feel of drying spend on himself or his betrothed, and Jim could not be seen leaving his rooms in the morning, as Vulcans were rather conservative about sexual relations before marriage - but he could not be bothered right now, not with Jim in his arms.

As if she had a sort of extra-sensory perception regarding Spock and Prince James’ relationship, Amanda looked slyly at them the next evening at dinner when the families congregated once more for a pre-wedding banquet. Spock, for his part, pointedly ignored her raised eyebrow and and sparkling smirk; the Prince, unfortunately, could no more ignore Lady Amanda’s looks than he could stop blinking.

Sam was the only other person in the room who seemed to sense that something had changed between them. Apparently whatever foul mood had caught him after the tete-a-tete with their father dissipated. Jim caught his eye across the table and blushed deeply when the older brother raised a glass of champagne and winked broadly. As an adult and a crown Prince, he couldn’t exactly throw a roll at him. He settled for politely asking Tela once more her opinion on whether Sam should wear a formal tuxedo or a dashing Admiral’s uniform to their wedding next December. Of course Jim sided with Tela - Sam should wear the Admiral’s uniform, it looked neater on him and was fitting for a Royal - but he knew Sam felt uncomfortable wearing a title and a uniform that he never served under, and needled the point anyway.

Now there were only twelve days until their wedding. Twelve more tiresome days where neither Spock nor Jim were allowed out of their respective handlers’ sights, cornered and shepherded around to give their unheeded opinions on flowers, candles, cakes, ornaments, decorative fountains, table settings, assorted greenery, waitstaff, music, dances, and guest seating. They caught glimpses of each other in passing down hallways, across courtyards, heard each others’ voices around the corner or in the other dressing room, but never had a moment of privacy to speak.

For Jim, it was also twelve days full of tense meetings with King George and Sam and the Head of Security, twelve days full of miscommunication and false alarms and never ending memos about… well, who really knew what. Twelve days of his security detail breathing down his neck, of added Vol Dur guards to the entire royal family’s retinue. Every move he made, every last item he was handed - from a padd to a handkerchief - inspected for every possible deadly outcome. Jim thought he might scream, wanted desperately to shake off the guards shadowing his every step and go to Spock once more and kiss him silly. Still, nine days passed without being able to even ask after his betrothed.

Spock discovered to his utter frustration that he dearly missed Jim’s voice. Jim found he wanted to see Spock raise his eyebrow in fascination at the truly dumb things he said. Their chemistry was like that, he thought romantically as he stared out his fitting room window one rainy afternoon. They orbited each other, complimenting the other like two sides of the same coin.

“Your Majesty,” an attendant called, patience wearing thin in her voice. “The tailor is ready for your final fitting.”

“Final?” his head popped up hopefully.

“Well, final until the actual wedding day,” the tailor said apologetically.

He barely restrained a groan and dragged his feet to the middle of the room. Servants bustled here and there, taking off and putting clothes onto his frame as if he was no more than a stuffed model in the middle of a dress shop. He made a face at himself in the mirror and stifled a chuckle, wondering what Spock would make of his impatience.

Spock himself was wondering that same moment what Jim would think of his slipping control.

“Mother, I do not doubt that reading vows is a ‘big deal’ to Humans,” he said, the veneer of Vulcan apathy wavering. “However, I do not understand why you wish me to practice them here and now.”

“Spock, what else are you doing at the moment? In, over here,” Lady Amanda tucked part of Spock’s robe under near his right foot, indicating to the Vulcan tailor where she wanted the fabric hemmed.

He clenched his jaw for a moment. “Are these vows not private?”

“Yes, of course,” his mother answered, her focus only partially on her son. She pointed to a part of his wedding robe and spoke to the tailor, who looked as if he wanted to be anywhere rather than right here. “And here, I want that portion smoothed out and - yes, just like that. I’m sorry, honey, what were you saying?”

“Vulcan ceremonies do not include vow-sharing, and I doubt that Prince James will want to read his vows in front of everyone as well -”

“Spock, it is not my decision, and it is not yours,” Lady Amanda said, crossing her arms. She only enunciated her words in such a way and declined to use contractions when she really wanted to get her point across to her stubborn Vulcan husband and son. “I asked King George and he was quite adamant that vows be shared. At least I was able to get him to agree not to broadcast them like the rest of the ceremony.”

“Broadcast?” Spock looked aghast.

Lady Amanda’s left eyebrow crooked up in a pretty imitation of Sarek’s. “Did you not look at the guest list, oh detail-oriented son of mine? There are over one thousand people going to be in attendance at your wedding, which is in - excuse me, not like that, it must be sewn with the polekh stitch, not the galmith - oh, what is it now? Three days?”

“Three days, five hours, and forty-four minutes,” Spock recited, wincing as a stray pin poked him in the thigh.

“There’s no time to change anything,” Amanda said.

“But - broadcasted?” Spock protested.

“Only to those in attendance, to the back of the room,” his mother said in her most soothing voice.

“Human hearing is quite dull, compared to Vulcan,” the tailor offered mildly.

Lady Amanda glared at him, but said to her son, “Which is why everything but the vows will be piped through the whole room. I did manage to secure that much for you. You’re welcome.”

“Thank you, Mother,” Spock said through gritted teeth as another pin pierced his sensitive inner arm. “But what am I to say during these vows?”

“Good gracious heavens,” Amanda cried, dropping her arms down to her sides exasperatedly. “Am I to do everything in this wedding? Am I to marry Prince James for you, too?”

“I would counsel against it,” Sarek said as he entered the room, one eyebrow raised to show his good humor.

“I don’t know, being married to another Human sounds awfully tempting right about now,” Lady Amanda grumbled, but she reached out two fingers to return her husband’s gentle Vulcan kiss.

“Mother, Father, please,” Spock hissed, his face flushing at their embarrassing public display of affection.

“Have you worked on your wedding vows, Spock?” Sarek asked, ignoring his son’s pleading look. “Humans view them as an important part of the ceremony, just as much as the joining of minds in the Vulcan tradition, in my experience.”

“I have not.” Spock ground his teeth together, wondering if he could beg an hour or two for meditation from his mother and the tailor.

“It would be wise to think them through,” Sarek prodded. He now looked not at Spock, but at his wife, who smiled at him brightly. His own lips flickered at the corners. Any untrained eye would read impassivity on his features, but Amanda and Spock knew him well enough to understand an enormous Vulcan grin when they saw one.

“My own were… unpracticed and unconventional, as I did not understand the custom at the time of our wedding,” Sarek said, eyebrow cocked.

Lady Amanda burst into giggles, heedless of the Vulcan tailor and servants-in-waiting around them.

“I don’t think I'll ever forget my father’s face when you so solemnly promised to keep me sexually satisfied for all my days,” she gasped, wiping at tears in the corners of her eyes. “Oh, that was the highlight of our wedding day.”

Spock gaped. Sarek just tilted his head, a tinge of green on his cheekbones.

“Your mother only told me that vows are meant to be promises made publicly of how the one party shall care for the other during their marriage. Sexual satisfaction is one aspect of marital happiness that -”

“Indeed,” Spock interrupted his father quickly, face flushing deeply. He stepped off the pedestal the tailor had him on and abruptly shrugged the robe off, flinching and wincing at each pinch and prick of silver-sharp needles against his skin. “I must meditate,” he muttered, his mother’s unrestrained laughter following him out of the room.

“Mister Spock,” the tailor protested, but Lady Amanda drew him back to the stuffed model near the armoire and insisted on giving her son a little break.

“Thirty minutes,” she called over her shoulder as Spock slammed the door behind him.

Spock leaned against the closed door and shut his eyes, attempting to regain his Vulcan control. Clothed now in only his black under-robes, he shivered and hurried over to the closet where warm robes hung neatly. I-Chaya stretched on the bed, emitting a low, displeased rumble at having been interrupted in what must surely have been a kingly nap, and rolled onto his back to demand a belly rub.

He had only just extended his hand to pat the soft chestnut fur when the door to the East Wing opened and closed suddenly. Prince James stood inside his room, leaning against the doors, out of breath and looking quite pleased with himself.

I-Chaya bolted upright, determined to scare away the intruder, but upon seeing the Human, rolled back over and swiped an obsidian-clawed paw in the air, determined to receive scratches.

“Spock!” Jim stage-whispered, then crossed the room and kissed him full on the mouth. “I missed you, my love,” he said, pulling away only slightly to drink in the view of Spock in his simple underclothes.

“I have missed you, as well, ashaya, but Jim, what are you doing here?” Spock asked, pleased but completely taken aback. Jim sat on his bed, one hand absently stroking I-Chaya’s soft flank, and looked for all the world like he belonged there.

And he does, Spock thought fiercely, heart aching in his side.

“I just told the schedulers that they must have missed the very important meeting that I had with you today,” Jim said, and even though his cheeks were pink, a mischievous smile crept up his lips. “It’s extremely long overdue, you know.”

“A meeting? I do not believe we had scheduled a meeting, Prince James.”

“Oh, really?” Jim asked, scooting closer to Spock on the bed, and reached out to palm his crotch gently.

Spock bit his lip, hips jutting out just slightly at the friction.

“That’s my mistake, Mr. Spock,” Jim said innocently, still moving against his Vulcan’s cock. “I guess I’ll just tell the schedulers and -”

“I believe I am beginning to remember the aforementioned meeting,” Spock rushed, pulling him up for a searing kiss.

“I thought you might,” Jim murmured against his lips.

I-Chaya, who was now receiving zero attention, nudged Jim’s back with his nose.

“Ow, goddamnit I-Chaya,” Jim winced, turning slightly to face the sehlat who looked up, morose but unapologetic, at the Human he prodded with his six-inch fangs.

Glaring, Jim returned his attention to Spock and pushed him backwards until his back hit the wall nearest the French doors to a respectable balcony. He wasted no time, pressing hot kisses to Spock’s neck and jawline, then down his chest until Spock realized with a shock that Jim was on his knees, and his fingers were opening up the thin under-robe he wore, and then his mouth -

Oh, his mouth. Spock’s head hit the wall, eyes shut tight in the face of such pleasure. He thought, suddenly, that he could write sonnets about it, wanted to worship those lips, that tongue, forever and a day. For now he had to settle for a low groan to tell Jim just how much he enjoyed his mouth.

He peered down, one hand gripping Jim’s hair tightly, thighs trembling and burning as he held back from thrusting madly. Jim’s gaze was on him, eyes locked on his face; and even if Spock was not a touch telepath he would know the affection, the admiration, the ardor running through the Prince’s body and under his skin just by the gleam in Jim’s sea-sharp eyes.

With a wet pop, Jim pulled his mouth off of Spock’s penis. One hand continued to stroke him, even and firm, while the other rested on a shaking thigh.

“I thought you did not want I-Chaya to see,” Spock teased as soon as he could catch his breath.

Jim chuckled, hot breath ghosting over Spock’s member.

“So move him,” he said, then swirled his tongue over the head deliciously. Spock forgot entirely what they were discussing, or even why they were speaking.

“Oh, James, yes, yes,” he pleaded, voice raspy and low as the Prince continued his oral ministrations. “My James, ah, ah, yes, Ja - ah, ashayam, taluhk nash-veh k - k’dular, James, James -”

The heat from Spock’s erection almost burned the roof of his mouth, the soft insides of his cheeks, the sensitive muscle of his tongue, but Jim would be damned if it didn’t quickly become his favorite feeling ever.

As Vulcan words tumbled from Spock’s moaning lips, Jim began to take his cock even deeper, sliding it smoothly down his throat with only one or three embarrassing gags. Moments later, Spock came, shaking and shivering with the force of his climax. Swallowing the remaining spend, Jim suckled at the relaxing penis, tongue cleaning up the extra saliva and semen.

“Jim,” Spock whispered, dazed and lost in pleasure.

He chuckled and rose in a fluid motion, kissing his Vulcan betrothed deeply, tucking him back into his black robes seamlessly. He was about to comment on how much he loved being able to make Spock come undone, how desperately he cherished the soft look on his face after coming, when a knock at the door interrupted him.

“Spock? I know I’m a little early but Valak said -”

Amanda stopped short, just inside the doorway, her face flushing red at the sight of Jim springing away from her son like a little boy caught stealing cookies from the kitchen.

“Prince James,” she bowed, and, turning her sharp gaze to Spock, said, “I did not realize you were going to be here.”

“Meetings,” Jim blurted, shoving his hands in his pockets and hoping his thick jeans and oversized sweater hid what he was sure was a raging hard-on. “Spock and I had one. We - it was on the schedule. Just, the schedulers, uh, got it mixed up. So only a few minutes to meet.”

He cringed at his stupid tongue, but Lady Amanda just blinked.

“Ah,” she said, her face blank. “Meetings.”

“So yeah, so I guess I’m gonna -” Jim began, just as Spock said:

“I suppose you have other matters to attend to -”

“Yes, definitely, a lot of other matters,” the Prince laughed. Before he left, Jim extended one hand to Spock, two fingers together, initiating a soft Vulcan kiss. Spock could not hide the small smile at the corners of his mouth as he met the Human’s fingers, pressing them together only a moment before Jim looked back up at Amanda and fled the rooms.

She only looked sternly back at Spock after Jim was safely gone.

“Subtlety, my son,” she admonished, then brusquely turned away and walked back into the living room where the tailor waited. Spock flushed, jade creeping from his cheekbones to his collar, as he followed. Somehow, the second half of the fitting did not seem as burdensome.

Chapter Text

With one day to go until their wedding, Jim was kept confined to his rooms by manicurists, hair stylists, dermatologists, the rehearsal director, and several dozen other people who didn’t seem to have a purpose except to make Jim feel awfully uncomfortable and scrutinized. When they finished poking and prodding him hours and hours later, Jim collapsed on his bed face-first, determined to fall asleep.

Through the fog of half-sleep, Jim heard the buzzer at his door.

“No,” he muttered, not moving from his prone position.

The buzzer sounded again, more insistent. Then again, and again, until Jim groaned and rolled over, throwing an arm over his eyes.

“Fine, enter,” he sighed.

With a soft swish, the door opened and allowed the intruder inside. Jim heard footsteps approach until whoever it was stood at the bedside.

“Spock, if that’s you, I really don’t have it in me right now for a meeting,” Jim said tiredly, already falling back into half-consciousness.

“Not Spock. Also, are you guys having meetings already? I thought Vulcans were prudes,” a friendly voice retorted.

“Oh, he’s - no, definitely not a prude,” Jim grumbled, blushing. “And ’m really tired Sam. Go away.”

Sam kicked his shin gently and chuckled. “Good to know I wasn’t imagining things. Way to score with your husband.”

“Not my husband yet,” Jim retorted. He hadn’t moved his arm from his face, and was becoming rather irritated that he wasn’t allowed to fall asleep.

“I need to talk to you, Jim,” Sam said, his tone more serious. “It’s important.”

“Can it wait?” Jim whined, finally throwing his arm out to the side. “I’m so tired, Sam.”

“No. Get up.”

“Mm.”

“Get up!”

“MmmMM!”

Jim felt Sam’s hands shove him roughly until he tumbled off the bed, limbs flailing in an attempt to keep himself off the floor. With a thud and a lot of cursing, he crashed onto the brown hardwood underfoot.

“I told you to get up,” Sam said mildly.

“Fuck you,” Jim muttered.

Sam walked away to the replicator and brought back two cups of coffee.

“Sam, it’s 2000,” Jim said, squinting at the chronometer on the wall. “I’m not drinking coffee r-right now. I have to be up at 0600 for - actually, I don’t - I don’t really know why.”

“Look, I know it’s late, but it’s really, really important, Jim,” Sam said, and Jim finally noticed the heavy bags under his eyes and the well-worn and tired clothes he was wearing, so much different from the usual palace finery he sported.

Reluctantly, he sat at his desk, swiveling the chair to look at Sam, who settled into an armchair a few feet away.

“I’ll get right to it, Jim,” Sam began as the younger brother took a strong gulp of black coffee. “Tela and I are eloping.”

Jim coughed, coffee spurting out of his mouth in a brown geyser. He winced at the blistering heat melting into his skin wherever it spilled.

“I - what the fuck?” he asked.

“We decided a few months ago,” Sam continued, “and we’re finally going through with it. I’ve got a job set up at one of the business centers on Verdera I, and Tela’s got a research position with the botany department up there -”

“Wait, Verdera I?” Jim interrupted. “What - why are you going there?”

Sam sat in silence, eyes fixed on his cooling coffee.

“Wait - wait, Sam,” Jim said, feeling panic starting to rise in his throat as he leaned forward. “Sam, you’re not - you’re not just eloping, are you? You’re running away.”

“We aren’t running away,” Sam snapped, but he didn’t look up at Jim. “This isn’t the life we want, Jim.”

“Dad’s not going to let you go,” Jim said, setting his coffee down on the desk.

“I’m not asking dad,” Sam said evenly. He finally met Jim’s eyes. “I’m abdicating.”

Jim sucked in a breath, eyes wide, leaning back heavily in his chair.

“Sam,” he breathed, unable to believe it. His older brother - abdicating? Leaving the one job he’d been groomed for his whole life? To go live on some backwater planet in the far reaches of the galaxy? And that meant…

“I know it puts you in a hard position, Jim,” Sam said gently, but Jim didn’t let him finish.

“Puts - puts me in a hard position? Puts me in a hard position?” He stood and paced the length of his rooms, cheeks flush with anger and anxiety roaring through his chest and stomach. He was either going to throw up or start swinging at his brother, and right now he wasn’t sure which he would prefer.

“Sam, are you - are you out of your goddamn head? Are you serious right now? Abdicating? Why - where is this even coming from? And why are you fucking… dropping this on me the night before my wedding? Seriously?”

“I know,” Sam said miserably, “I know it’s a lot. Just, Jim, calm down -”

“Calm down?” Jim repeated, stopping cold in his tracks as his eyebrows arched in surprise. “Ca- Sam, I - you fucking -”

“Just listen, Jim, please,” Sam pleaded. He raised his hands in a gesture of peace and shifted in his chair. “I’ll explain everything but just - can you just sit down? Please? You’re making me anxious, pacing like that.”

Seething, Jim plopped into his chair, murderous thoughts running rampant over his face.

Taking a deep breath, Sam leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Jim, Tela and I have been together for five years now. We’ve been engaged for a little over a year, and every time I’ve brought up moving the wedding closer, Dad’s brushed me off. And after the Commander Forsythe’s death and those fucking videos I… I confronted Dad about it, asked him what the holdup is. It turns out he doesn’t want me to marry her in the first place. He said he’d hoped that the time between now and the wedding, one of us would break it off. He said she’s not queen material.” He let out a long sigh and rubbed his face.

“I just… I walked out, and I haven’t talked to him about it since. But I know that I can’t do this anymore, Jim. Dad doesn’t think I’m cut out to be King. I always wanted it, I knew I could do it, but this - God, it’s just too much. I love Tela, more than the throne or the promise of someday being King without Dad looking over my shoulder. We’re going somewhere she can focus on her career, and I can disappear for awhile into obscurity. And I’ve already made up my mind, Jim, so please don’t try to change it.”

They sat together in the silence of the room. Jim, overwhelmed by Sam’s monologue, blinked dazedly into the middle distance, trying to process what had just happened.

“Sam, you can’t… you can’t leave,” he tried, weakly.

Sam simply sighed. “Yes, I can. Under the Terran Articles of Unity and Confederation, article 21, section F, as long as the heir to the throne abdicates before the second child marries, they are legally entitled to give up their rights to head the monarchy as if they hadn’t been born.”

It took a minute, but Jim’s brain finally caught up to what Sam was saying.

“As if you h-hadn’t been born? What does that mean?” he asked, horror welling up inside him.

“I won’t be legally entitled to anything, anymore,” Sam said gently. “No inheritance, no titles, no money. I’m technically - well, I’m cutting myself off from the family.”

“From me,” Jim whispered.

Sam said nothing. They stared at each other, slumped in their chairs, unsure what to say. Jim felt tears prick in his eyes, then flow freely down his face.

“So you save it till the last minute?” he asked, his voice rough. “You - you wait until the day before I get married to disinherit yourself? Fuck, Sam -”

“I know, I know, I know,” Sam said, and Jim was surprised to see him impatiently dash away a tear. “But with your wedding be relatively sudden, and then Tela found out she’s pregnant -”

“Preg- God, are you fucking kidding me!” Jim laughed through his tears. “Christ, what - I mean, congratulations, you stupid bastard. Fuck. What’s next? Is there a third brother I don’t know about? Dad’s got a secret mistress hidden away? Spock’s actually a Tellarite?”

“I don’t know about that,” Sam said, and he, too, chuckled as he wiped at tears. “I’m - I’m so happy, Jim, I just - we’re gonna have a baby. You’re gonna have a nephew.”

“Why not a niece?”

“Tela says she can tell. She says every woman in her family on her mother’s side has been able to tell since before her great grandmother. I don’t know, I’ll be happy with whatever we get, as long as it’s a healthy baby. And I know it’s a lot, and I technically won’t have any rights to tell you when it’s born -”

Jim shook his head and swiveled in his chair back and forth. “You dumb fuck, if you don’t tell me when it’s born I’ll send the Vol Dur after your asses,” he chuckled.

They sat in awkward silence again for a few minutes.

“I’m really sorry, Jim,” Sam said quietly. “I didn’t want it to be like this, sneaking out in the dead of night. I wanted - I thought it would be different, there would be more time.” He hesitated. “Jim, you know I love you, right?”

“Yeah,” Jim said. “Jackass.”

Sam threw his head back and laughed. Jim laughed with him and sipped the rest of his coffee, well aware by now that he was not going to sleep at this point.

“When… when are you leaving?” Jim asked quietly.

“Tonight. Transport leaves at 0015.”

“You know you’re - you’re kinda throwing me to the wolves here, Sam,” Jim said, tracing his index finger over the lip of the now-empty mug.

Sam dropped his gaze. His coffee cup was still full, completely ignored and now cold. He set it aside.

“I know. I’m sorry, Jim. I know you never wanted to be King.” Sam spoke softly. “You wanted to stay at Starfleet, teaching. You just wanted - you just wanted the relatively normal life you’d carved out for yourself here, after…” his voice faltered. They rarely talked about Tarsus.

Jim cleared his throat and looked away.

“But the thing is, you’re capable of being King, too, and I know you don’t see that, but -”

“Sam, I -” Jim interrupted with a deep inhale. “It’s not that. I mean, I know I can’t be a King, I’m not - no, I’m not good enough. I’m just a professor, and I’m okay with that. I really like my job, and honestly, I really like Spock. I think - I think I love him. This is all I’ve ever wanted. I don’t think I can do this, just jump into this role like this. I mean, God,” he said, the anxiety broiling just under his rib cage coursed through his chest once more, “you were the one who was taught to be King all these years.”

“You were always a better study than me,” Sam said. Jim scoffed, but the eldest brother leaned forward in his chair.

“No, listen,” he insisted, “you were the initiator when we were little, always pushing us to try new things and, yeah, get into trouble. You survived Tarsus, and saved those other kids besides. You pushed yourself to earn two Ph.D.s in separate fields in record time, even when you couldn’t speak. And then, when you talked again, you decided to jump into teaching. I mean, Christ, you’re the real hero in this family, Jim.”

Jim sat there, again dazed by his brother. He’d never considered that Sam thought him a hero.

“You’re really smart but also really dumb,” Sam said as he regarded his younger brother.

“Shut up,” Jim mumbled.

“I’m just saying that I think you’re underestimating yourself,” Sam said gently. “You really are meant to be the King, with Spock at your side.”

Jim looked up sharply. “Spock didn’t choose any of this either,” he said, reminded once more of the day his father pulled him into the study and told him he would be marrying a Vulcan scientist from a High House to better stabilize relations between their two planets.

You’ll understand better one day, King George had said, dismissing his son’s protests with a huge clap on the shoulder. You’ll thank me.

“No,” Sam agreed, standing. “He didn’t.”

“Do you think - do you think he’ll - he’ll -”

Sam shoved his hands in his pockets and didn’t meet Jim’s eyes. “I really don’t think Spock’s the kinda guy to up and leave at the first sign of trouble,” he said softly, though Jim couldn’t hear his usual determinism behind the words.

They stared at each other, separated by more than just distance. Jim felt like bursting into tears, but didn’t think it would be very kingly if he did so.

“Bye, Jim,” Sam choked, then pulled his younger brother into a tight embrace. Jim sniffed, holding his brother close.

“Yeah. Bye,” he said, wiping at a tear in the corner of his eye.

And just like that, Sam was gone. He vanished out the door, into the dark hallway, and out of Jim’s life - forever.

After standing there for what felt like hours - a glance at the chronometer told him it was actually more like four minutes - Jim realized with an ache that all he wanted in the world was to be with Spock. To breathe him in, the sharp scent of his shampoo, the sweet undertones that always clung to his clothes. To press in to his warm body and feel the reassurance of firm muscle and hot skin under him, to have his arms wrapped around Jim in comfort and protection. But how could he go to Spock now, tell him everything that transpired, yeah, so by the way, you’re going to be the King’s Consort now instead of an unknown Prince Consort, here’s a list of your responsibilities starting tomorrow after we tie the knot. Can you please let me snuggle up with you and pet my hair and tell me it’s going to be ok?

But how could he not go to Spock, tell him what happened? If he let Spock find out in the morning, he would feel like Jim had tried to trap him into marriage. He would leave.

Anxiety paralyzed him for only a moment before resolution warmed his shaking frame. He knew what he had to do - what he would want Spock to do, if their roles were reversed. Dressed only in baggy leggings and an undertunic from the fittings earlier in the day, Jim took a deep breath and squared his shoulders before walking out of his rooms.

Every step that took him closer to Spock built up the anxiety in his gut, but Jim was determined to see Spock, speak with him. He has to know, he thought, his teeth and fists clenched tightly.

He almost didn’t realize that he’d arrived at Spock’s door. A haze seemed to have fallen over his eyes, a sure sign that he’d gotten lost in his head. Jim paused for a moment, only a moment, before raising a fist and knocking hard on the door.

A breath, then two, and Jim’s resolve was dissolving. He turned away, then heard the soft swish of the door opening behind him. When he spun around, Spock was staring at him incredulously, looking immensely tired and, to his credit, only a tad annoyed.

“Prince James,” he intoned, glancing out the door to see if anyone was accompanying his betrothed. “What are you doing here?” he asked, a little less formally.

“Spock, I - I’m sorry, I know it’s so late, and I wouldn’t do this normally, but I - I have to talk to you,” Jim said nervously. “It’s super important. Can I come in? Please?”