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Paper Tigers

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Outside the window as the shuttle descends into the cloudless sky, the curve of the planet’s horizon disappears and Jim watches the rust-red ground approaching. He can see the Vulcan palace from up here, its four tall towers reaching into the sky, and its sprawling grounds dotted with plants and streaked with pathways. To its side, rows of thin, black-roofed buildings must be the Shi’kahr warriors’ barracks, and beyond it — well, that must be the city itself.

Shi’kahr lies at the base of the cliff, below the palace, and from here Jim can just barely make out movement. Bustling streets and bright, waving flags. Rushing cars seem reflected a thousand-fold in the shining glass of the city’s tallest buildings, and Jim watches shuttles similar to their own circling the city or drifting down to land somewhere behind the skyline.

In the seats behind him, a host of stuffy cultural and military advisors trade final notes of caution, but Jim has heard quite enough notes of caution by now, after months preparing for the impending negotiation. He has been on the receiving end of his father’s serious scowl, his mother’s concerned, tight smile. He has sat through the royal advisors’ hours of etiquette training, and he swears he knows by now.

He knows that Vulcans can be unpredictable. They’re pure passion, pure will, pure fire, the once-enemy of everything Jim and his family holds dear, and any offence could make them rebuke an alliance with Earth forever. Given the machines of war Vulcans have at their disposal, the Terrans need this alliance, or at least this friendship. The shaky armistice of 30 years ago is no longer enough.

So Jim has been told to remain out of the way, to observe and not participate in the upcoming talks. He understands, for the most part. He’s still only 27, and he can be full of fire himself. Even bringing Jim along is a risk, according to his brother the crown prince.

Never mind that Jim is Earth’s second son, or that he has spent his whole life observing negotiations. Never mind that he thinks he might know how to handle a couple of hot-headed extraterrestrials after that run-in with the Tellarites last year. But when it comes down to it, his parents are king and queen of the most influential planet in the quadrant, and even Jim has to listen to them sometimes. Besides, they want this to be his first step into a new role: Earth’s first official ambassador to Vulcan since the end of their war 30 years ago.

Provided this all goes well.

So when their shuttle lands with a muffled thunk on a stretch of sand outside the Vulcan palace, the good Prince James of Earth has every intention of keeping to himself.

Jim’s parents, the king and queen, are the first to disembark, as is proper. They link arms and move gracefully down the shuttle steps, both of their figures colored orange by the hues of an alien sun. Jim follows them into the hot, thin air, and his first breath rasps against his lungs like sandpaper.

As Jim descends the steps, his eyes lift immediately to the massive edifice of the palace before them, a great stone structure with blooming archways. It looks as though it’s carved out of the mountain itself, red as the sand of the Forge off in the distance past the city below. It’s more a fort than a palace, with none of the frills of decoration that Jim is used to, and Jim realizes suddenly why Sa-te'kru Sarek has maintained power on this planet for so long, in spite of rebel resistance. This place could withstand any kind of attack, especially if has the same shields as Vulcan’s warships.

Jim steps onto the vermillion pigment of the sand, followed by the tight-knit group of old royal advisors behind him. He’s already sweating in his formal clothing — the collar of his shirt is too high, the fastening at his throat too tight, and all the brocade and frill feels suffocating as a straitjacket. But in spite of the discomfort and the harsh sting of air, it’s a beautiful planet, red from the horizon to the dust staining his boots, with a large sun hanging low in the rusty sky.

Jim follows his parents, their procession striding toward a group of a dozen or so Vulcans, assembled to greet them. Many of them hold what look to be polearms with wide, sweeping blades at their heads — and Jim hopes that this is an honor guard of Sarek’s best warriors, rather than a threat.

Though if the Vulcans want to threaten them, Earth’s rulers are abundantly familiar with their advanced weapons. A few blades don’t even compare.

Jim draws level with his parents as they approach the group, and tries not to let his labor for breath show on his face. The older Vulcan man standing at the fore of their assembled party is clearly their leader, and Jim knows to show weakness to Vulcans is to submit your life. He certainly doesn’t want to show weakness to Sa-te'kru Sarek.

Sarek and his honor guard all wear the same white, chiton-like robes, draped over one shoulder, tied around their waists to make short skirts, leaving their arms, legs and half their chests bare. They’re all statuesque, with flowing dark hair adorned with gold threads woven into the strands, but their manner of dress is infinitely simpler than the Terrans’ own, and Jim feels a flash of envy for how cool they must feel in this blistering sun.

“King George,” Sarek greets Jim’s father, then rakes his eyes over their small group.

“Sa-te'kru Sarek,” King George replies. “This is my wife, Queen Winona of Earth, and my Son Prince James. My eldest, Samuel, has chosen to stay on-planet to handle our affairs while we are away.”

The Terrans bow, and Jim rises to see a look of suspicion on the Vulcan leader’s face. “I had thought I would see Ambassador Grayson with you,” Sarek says. The words are spoken with strict authority, and yet Jim detects a hint of disappointment at their edges. Ambassador Amanda Grayson was the one who negotiated the armistice between Earth and Vulcan three decades ago. She stayed on this planet for more than a year, at a time when Vulcan hostility toward humans was as high as it had ever been. Earth as a whole tends to regard her as a miracle worker.

It seems Sarek may, too.

“She has retired, and deservedly,” George says. “And we felt fit to act as our own ambassadors in this very important matter.”

Lifting his chin, Sarek seems to accept this. “Of course,” he says. Then, he raises a hand, and one of the warriors steps forward as if summoned by the gesture.

The honor guard has given the impression of one solid mass this whole time, a single uniformed unit. So Jim doesn’t blame himself for turning absently to the warrior as he comes to stand beside Sarek. But then Jim actually sees him. The moment those dark eyes — like charcoal embers in the gleam of the red sun — catch Jim’s own, Jim can’t force himself to look away.

The warrior wears his long hair down, unadorned in contrast to the others, with one side shaved close to his skull. His lithe hand clenches around the polearm he holds, and Jim follows the line of that arm over a strong set of shoulders, an exposed chest smattered with curls of black hair, lines carved at every muscle as though he’s been sculpted out of stone like the magnificent palace before them. He stands with his legs apart, his chin high, his brows tight.

Jim’s mouth goes dry, and somehow he doubts it’s an effect of the climate.

“You must meet my son, Dorli Kahr-lan Spock,” Sarek says, his voice echoing in Jim’s ears as if spoken from far away. Jim registers the name, but doesn’t apply it to this dark-eyed stranger until Spock turns his head, breaking Jim’s gaze. “He will be joining our negotiations.”

“We greet you,” Spock says, his voice deep and rough. Jim feels something hot spreading through his stomach at the sound. Then, Spock looks back to Jim as if sensing his gaze. The corner of his lips lifts.

Sarek’s son .

“You will join us for a feast in the garden,” Sarek says, though Jim feels like he’s hearing him through a long tunnel, somewhere so outside his realm of focus that his words are almost inconsequential. He tears his eyes from Spock’s magnetic gaze, and refocuses on the matter at hand. “Tomorrow,” Sarek continues, “we may begin talks of an alliance, though I anticipate no success on your part.”

“We understand your position,” Winona says magnanimously. “And we hope we will be able to change it.”

“You will not,” Sarek replies. “But you may try. Since the armistice, you have yet to show aggression toward us nor favor toward our enemies. You may consider yourselves welcome.”

They all bow once again, though this time when Jim rises his eyes are drawn like gravity back to Spock. Sarek’s son . But Spock is looking at him , too, and Jim knows that expression. There’s intent in those dark eyes, in the small smile Spock is wearing.

The monarchs exchange respectful nods, and soon the group begins to move. Most of the warriors lead the procession toward the palace’s wide, arching doors, but Spock falls back to join the cluster of the two royal families. As Sarek, George and Winona speak about the architecture of the palace, Spock slows his pace to match Jim’s, step-for-step.

“Prince James,” he says in greeting, voice low so as not to interrupt the conversation happening ahead of them or draw the attention of the advisors trailing behind. It’s almost a murmur.

“Dorli Kahr-lan Spock,” Jim replies, hoping he pronounced the title well enough. By the small smile on Spock’s face, he can assume he did not. Though he studied rather intently for this visit, it seems no amount of study can change his tongue.

“Will you be participating in negotiations?” Spock asks him, and Jim suddenly feels very young, though he doubts Spock is many years older than him. Three or four, at the most.

“Not this time,” Jim says. “I’m here to, ah, observe .” It feels foolish to admit.

But Spock simply turns his eyes forward, nodding in understanding. “Of course. I have been directed to do the same. You understand, negotiation is not typically the way of my people. We tend to prefer battle as means of solving conflicts.”

“Is that why you’ve got the...” Jim gestures to Spock’s weapon and Spock smiles.

“Lirpa,” he says.

“Right. Trying to goad us into a fight?” Jim says it with a smile, so hopefully Spock knows the question isn’t serious.

“It is tradition to greet dignitaries in such a way,” Spock says, lifting the lirpa casually.

“Ah,” Jim says, eyes forward once again. “I admit I can’t imagine negotiation through battle. Solving conflicts by means of starting conflicts seems a little counter-intuitive, wouldn’t you say?”

Spock lets out a small laugh, and Jim allows himself a smile at the sound. “In my experience,” Spock says, “too much talk results in more anger, and little clarity. There is always a clear victor in a battle.”

“And not always in a debate?” Jim asks, glancing to him.

“Precisely.”

“That sounds like something a poor negotiator would say,” Jim says with a grin.

“Spoken like a poor fighter,” Spock tosses right back, and he’s smiling, too.

As their party ascends the palace steps, moving slow in the suffocating heat, Jim shrugs. “You caught me there,” he says. “I’m definitely not much of a fighter.”

“Nor do I negotiate,” Spock says. “I tend to receive what I want without trying.”

Jim snorts a kind of inelegant laugh, regretting it when his mother glances over her shoulder, her eyes narrowing. He tries, albeit unsuccessfully, to look serious.

“You’re royalty,” he says, quieter now, the moment Winona looks away. “People probably line up to give you what you want. I don’t know if you can brag about that, Dorli Kahr-lan.”

Spock’s responding laugh is quick, sharp — a bark, and it makes Jim smile again in spite of himself. “It is a shame you will not be a part of the talks,” Spock says genially. “Our clan leaders may need your humor to retain their interest. But perhaps I may suggest some other uses for your time, while you are here.”

Spock might think he’s good at this, and, alright, maybe he is. But Jim’s not naive. He doesn’t miss the edge of flirtation in Spock’s voice, nor does he miss the hand hanging at Spock’s side, his knuckles gently brushing against Jim’s own every once in a while as they walk. Trying to maintain a veneer of decorum while the awful and delicious thrill of attraction snakes through his veins, Jim stares straight ahead.

“I think I’d like to hear these suggestions of yours, Dorli Kahr-lan,” he says, attempting to feign indifference. But when he glances to Spock beside him, he can tell the facade didn’t work. Spock’s expression is smug, knowing, and entirely too enticing. God help him, Jim does love an arrogant bastard.

“You may call me Spock,” Spock says. “Until you can pronounce my title correctly.”

Jim scoffs. “And you may continue to call me Prince James. Until you give me a reason to stop standing on formality.”

Spock gives a low chuckle, but otherwise doesn’t respond.

Their group passes through the arches of the palace doors into a massive, echoing foyer with staircases rising on all sides like an Escher etching. A long, woven rug leads the way toward the doors at the other end of the chamber, which have been flung wide open to let in the hot breeze, and the scents of desert air, spices and cooking meat. Squares of orange light from high-up windows shine on the polished stone floors, glinting off the gold in the Vulcan warriors’ hair as each of them pass through.

Outside those far doors, the tops of bright and brambled flora are just visible under the glare of sun. And here Jim had hoped they’d at least be getting out of the heat. He tugs at the suffocating collar of his formal overshirt.

“Do not worry,” Spock says quietly from beside him, as if sensing Jim’s thoughts. He leans in as they walk, his hot breath tickling Jim’s ear. “You will find that there are many shaded areas of the gardens. Some quite secluded. If the heat begins to trouble you, I can help you find them.”

Jim turns to him, their faces close, though Spock doesn’t look away or draw back. “I’m sure I can find the shade on my own,” Jim says, and Spock must notice the weak protest in his voice.

“I would be a poor host if I allowed the Terran prince to feel lonely at our welcoming feast,” Spock replies. “I will consider it my duty to ensure you … enjoy the celebration.”

Jim laughs a little awkwardly, heat climbing his neck, and turns his eyes back to their destination, the beautiful and alien garden opening up before them.

And though Jim has internalized every warning about the Vulcans and the delicate diplomacy that has called Earth here, and though Jim has promised himself to exercise every caution, he decides in that moment that it can only help the diplomatic effort if the sons of the opposing nations’ monarchs find some common ground.

After all, the point of this visit is to foster friendship.

 


 

Nearly two hours later, the feast is in full swing. They have all taken advantage of a massive buffet, set up on long tables at the far end of the garden which rests just above the cliff face, offering a hell of a view. As Jim ate, he stood at the overlook with Spock at his side, the Vulcan prince smiling slightly with pride as Jim praised the view through mouthfuls of food. Spock pointed out some landmarks to him, the ones they could see from this high up, and Jim almost wished as Spock spoke that his parents had decided to join him in looking over the city, so they could see the planet Vulcan beyond the palace.

But they were still busy courting Sarek at his table when Jim and Spock retreated to a far table of their own to digest and people-watch.

They sit at this table now, lounging on cushions, watching dignitaries from their planets mingling. The Terrans look awkward, out of their element, but the Vulcans seem to enjoy the obvious discomfort of their guests, each wearing proud little smiles like Spock’s own. Spock has been guiding him through the complicated names and titles of his own people.

“That is Osu Stonn,” Spock says as Jim follows the line of his finger toward a scowling Vulcan man, his hair elaborately decorated with gold threads and blue cloth woven into braids. “A lesser clan leader. He believes himself to be far more important than he is. He may challenge you or your king and queen to a fight. If so, I suggest you accept.”

Jim laughs. “So as not to offend him?” He raises his drink – some kind of mulled wine – to his lips and Spock smirks at him.

“No, please offend him,” Spock says. “I say you should accept because our palace hasn’t had much cause for laughter since the rebellion started. We might all like to see Osu Stonn defeated in combat by a Terran diplomat.”

Snorting, Jim nudges Spock with his elbow. “Think I can take him?” Jim asks.

Spock’s responding grin makes him look predatory, his sharp canines glinting in the light. “Undoubtedly, but do you see the woman beside him? That is Ot-lan T’Pring.” Spock nods in the direction of one of the warriors from the honor guard, taller than Stonn by a good measure. Her eyes are narrowed, her chin held high, and Jim thinks she looks even more intimidating without her weapon than she did with. “She is protective of Stonn, and the highest ranking member of the Shi’kahr ask’er.”

Jim swears he knows that word, but he meets Spock’s eyes with a sheepish expression.

“The city’s army,” Spock says, magnanimously offering the translation. Jim nods gratefully. “She is a fierce warrior. I would not cross her if you do not have to.”

With a laugh, Jim sets his drink down on the table. “Believe it or not, our goal is to cross as few people as possible while we’re here,” he says, and meets Spock’s eyes. Spock is smiling, seemingly enjoying himself, but Jim nods toward the wider party anyway. “Don’t you want to go mingle?” he asks. “I’m sure plenty of our advisors would like to speak with the Dorli Kahr-lan. I can introduce you.”

“No,” Spock says decisively, causing Jim to lean back slightly. “I have no interest in them. I do have an interest in you. And, interest aside, the entertainment will start in moments.”

Jim doesn’t have time to smooth out the expression of surprise on his face, but Spock seems to misinterpret it anyway. “We have arranged a band to perform,” Spock explains, though Jim wishes he would elaborate on his ‘interest’ instead. “And some of our warriors are excellent dancers. The performance will be very diverting.”

“Wait –“ Jim begins, but before he can continue, a jarring, dissonant chord rings out over the garden, and he turns to see a Vulcan draped in a sheer robe standing near the fountain in the courtyard’s center, holding what looks to be a large stringed instrument in their hands. They play another loud, vibrating note, and all remaining chatter fades away. A few other musicians come up beside the first, some holding drums, some lyres and other odd instruments that Jim can’t identify, and they begin to play a strange, alien melody. It begins slowly, each instrument seeming to familiarize itself with its fellows as they integrate together into song. But soon the pace picks up. The musicians begin to stomp in time to the tune, and every Vulcan in attendance joins them – save Spock lounging on the cushion beside Jim. The rumble seems to shake the stone beneath them.

T’Pring is the first of the warriors to move forward into the space by the band, cleared for her by the surrounding dignitaries. She begins to move with the music, twisting at her waist and raising her leg like a ballerina. Every soul in the courtyard seems to be watching as a few more warriors stand to join her, mirroring her as they twist and move their arms in elegant patterns, as the musicians smile.

It’s beautiful to watch, and Jim is almost frustrated when Spock clears his throat beside him.

Turning toward his companion, Jim catches his gleaming eyes. “Would you care to join me for a walk, Prince James?” Spock asks lowly.

And Jim realizes quite suddenly why Spock felt fit to mention how diverting the performance would be. All eyes in the garden – Sarek’s, Jim’s parents, the advisors’ and Vulcan clan leaders’ — are turned toward the dancers. No one would notice them slipping away. For a walk .

It could just be a walk, but Jim feels the weight of a sudden decision fall on his shoulders. He planned to keep to himself, didn’t he? But Spock sought him out, stuck by his side throughout the feast so far. Maybe it would even be a political misstep to refuse to join his host.

The decision is made easier by the fact that, underneath it all, Jim does want to join him.

With one last look at the dancers, Jim climbs to his feet as Spock does the same. Spock holds out his arm toward the ruddy hedges off to the side — the tall, thick brambles in their massive stone planters — and Jim takes the invitation. They walk side-by-side away from the crowd, away from the music and the dance, and into the shade behind the hedges. The plants form a kind of wall between the main courtyard and the winding maze of low garden beds beyond, where smaller fountains and stone benches are set up around empty meeting areas and delicate, colorful desert flowers.

“You know,” he says as they make their way into the hedges’ shade, “I expected the palace grounds to be a bit more militaristic, not…” he holds out his arms to encompass the quiet delicacy of the gardens.

“Vulcans appreciate beauty,” Spock replies, and Jim glances to him. Those eyes are fixed on Jim. “And everything we do is done for pleasure or power. Places like this bring us pleasure, and our ability to maintain them in a time of war shows our power. Luxuries prove comfort, which proves strength.”

Jim nods in understanding, looking anywhere but at the man beside him as they wander down the line of the hedges. “Maybe that’s something humans and Vulcans have in common, then,” he says, and he’s surprised when Spock laughs.

“What?” Jim asks, glancing to him. Spock’s smiling eyes turn his way, and together they slow and come to a stop.

“Humans are far more practical than my people,” he says quietly, and though Jim would usually take that as a compliment, it sounds almost patronizing. “You seem to temper yourselves — seeking pleasure and power even as you attempt to avoid their excess. Am I mistaken?”

“An excess of anything, even pleasure, isn’t necessarily a good thing,” Jim argues, and Spock just looks like Jim has proven his point for him. Which, well, Jim supposes he has.

“Have you ever known an excess of pleasure?” Spock asks, and there’s something in the warm murmur of his voice that gives Jim pause. He doesn’t know if he can answer that question – or if it would even be wise to. “If you had,” Spock continues, shifting closer, “you would know that pleasure is best experienced in excess. I could demonstrate.”

Jim tries to force himself to move back, even as Spock’s hand comes to his own and his fingertips trace the line of Jim’s wrist up to the cuff of his sleeve. But Jim is frozen in place, that touch sparking against his skin. “Dorli-kahr lan,” he begins with a tone of warning, but his words fail him when Spock closes the distance between them further, coming to stand flush against Jim’s body.

“I told you to call me Spock,” Spock says, his breath hot, his fingers circling Jim’s wrist and holding it.

This is a terrible mistake. He knows it. He knew it when he first met Spock’s eyes mere hours ago. And he could still run back to the feast, pretend this moment never passed between them. The band is still playing on the other side of the hedges, its sound echoing all around them, a constant reminder of where they are. Who they are.

But Jim says nothing as Spock lowers his head, nuzzling under Jim’s ear and grazing his lips along the side of Jim’s throat. He says nothing as Spock’s free hand comes to his hip and pulls him close, as the hand around his wrist tightens. And all he says is one word, “Spock,” as Spock’s teeth graze the lobe of his ear.

There’s a voice in the back of his head saying they can’t be found like this, saying he’ll be crucified by his family, or by the Vulcans, if someone decides to round the hedges in search of shade. But another voice reminds him that, if he didn’t want this, he wouldn’t have followed Spock back here in the first place. And, oh , he does want this.

Spock takes Jim’s hips in both his hands now and begins to roll gently against him, his lips continuing their trail down Jim’s neck. Without even intending it, Jim’s hand moves to his own collar to undo the fastening, yanking it open down to the top of his chest to give Spock more skin to explore. Taking the offer eagerly, Spock licks his rough tongue into the hollow of Jim’s throat as he grinds harder up against him, letting out a harsh breath. Jim stumbles backwards at the sudden pressure, the spike of arousal, and he feels his ass hit the edge of one of the hedge’s stone planters.

“We should not be doing this,” Jim whispers, giving voice to his conscience even as he ignores it entirely, his hands gripping Spock’s biceps to hold him close.

Spock pulls away slightly, that smile on his lips. “I fail to see why.”

“If anyone hears us –“ Spock rolls his hips pointedly, and Jim chokes out a gasp of surprise.

A hand lands over his mouth. “Then we must make sure no one hears us,” Spock responds, making Jim’s eyes flutter with the enticing possibility in those words. He can hear murmured conversation under the music on the other side of the hedge, mere feet away. Hell, if he turned his head he could probably catch glimpses of the party through the briar. If anyone took the time to look intently in this direction, if the music lagged for just a moment at the wrong moment, they’d be caught. Jim feels himself hardening noticeably, intensely aware of Spock’s growing erection pressed against his own.

Jim doesn’t think he could push Spock away now if he wanted to. And he most definitely doesn’t want to. So he gives in. What choice does he have now?

Absolved of the weight of decision, Jim relaxes against Spock’s body, allowing Spock to lave attention along his throat. Not to be outdone, he flicks his tongue between Spock’s fingers, relishing the way Spock shudders and drops his head to Jim’s shoulder in sudden pleasure. There’s a strange spark under Spock’s skin, like persistent static crackling against Jim’s tongue. Jim explores the feeling, drawing Spock’s fingers between his lips, and Spock lets out a quiet, ragged sound. His hips buck forward, shoving Jim up against the planter hard. As Jim clutches him closer, Spock finds his neck again, sucking and biting at him harder as he rocks against Jim’s body.

If Jim felt overheated before, if Jim felt breathless in the thin air before, it’s nothing to now. He’s burning from the inside out, suffocated, and he’s not even getting air when he breathes; he’s breathing in Spock , a spicy sweet scent of Vulcan soil and perfume that clings to Spock’s hair, something herbal and natural and so deliciously thick on his tongue.

Spock begins to draw back, as if to give Jim space, but Jim grasps his shoulders tight to keep him from moving any farther. Their eyes meet for a brief, charged moment before Jim shoves forward, pressing line-to-line against Spock and taking his lips in a hot human kiss. Spock startles, hands coming to Jim’s face as if he means to pull him away. But Jim forces his tongue between Spock’s lips. Licking at the back of his teeth, gasping into Spock’s own open mouth, Jim feels Spock wilt slightly against him. He tests Jim’s tongue with his own.
And then they’re kissing, Jim nipping at Spock’s lower lip, sucking his tongue, holding Spock tight against him. Spock tilts his head to invite Jim closer, letting out a throaty kind of whine that makes Jim’s knees weak. Spock’s hands are on Jim’s back, curling into his brocaded overshirt, his leg coming between Jim’s so Jim can rub himself against that hard thigh.
And Jim does, drowning in Spock’s kiss and muffling his whimpers into Spock’s mouth. But Spock breaks the kiss too soon, pulling away and taking a slight step back.
Before Jim can protest, beg Spock back to him, Spock takes a firm handful of Jim’s hair. “Kneel,” he growls.

And, God, he doesn’t have to ask Jim twice. Jim sinks to his knees immediately. The hard stone pathway beneath him is hardly comfortable, and the tight fabric of his slacks bites into the backs of his legs, but he’s looking up the hard length of Spock’s body, skirt tented.

Jim curls a fist around the base of Spock’s cock over the fabric and sinks forward, fitting his lips around the outline of its tip. He feels the fabric go wet immediately, from his own saliva and some sweet fluid already dripping from the head of Spock’s prick – precum? Lubrication? — Spock lets out a quiet groan from deep in his chest, bending at his waist as he pulls hard at Jim’s hair and rests a hand on the planter to steady himself.

Jim takes a few frantic breaths through his nose, tonguing two swollen ridges at Spock’s head, proving some rumors about Vulcan anatomy he didn’t give much credence to until now. He explores the shape of Spock’s cock with his lips and tongue, fits his fingers around his thickness, knowing Spock’s feeling that muffled pleasure. In his hand, against his mouth, Spock twitches, soaking the fabric wet and warm. Jim could make him cum like this, with that thin fabric between them, but Jim wants to see him. Pulling away, Jim grabs handfuls of the skirt and yanks it down Spock’s thighs, letting it pool on the ground at Spock’s feet.

Spock’s cock is at a stand, flushed green, and Jim takes him in hand again immediately, sinking forward and fitting his lips around him.

The fingers in his hair tighten, and Spock’s hips jerk. “Suck,” Spock demands, the same strained tone of voice as when he told Jim to kneel. It’s as though he’s used to giving orders, and those orders being obeyed. Jim’s not exactly used to taking orders himself, but he doesn't hesitate. He would have knelt anyway, would have torn off that robe and fucked his mouth on Spock’s cock even without prompting. From the moment they locked eyes, Jim had a feeling they’d end up here. He just hadn’t expected his resolve to crumble so soon.

Knees already aching, Jim shifts closer, sinking down the length of Spock’s shaft and tightening his lips.

Spock steadies himself on the planter, legs trembling. With half-lidded eyes, he stares down at Jim like the rest of the world, the crowd of people beyond the hedge, have all faded away. From this angle, half his face is lit by the setting sun, but he casts Jim fully in shadow. Jim groans at the sight of him looming above, and he takes Spock down as deep as he can. What Jim wouldn’t give to be fucked by this cock.

But if that’s in the cards, it’s not right now. Jim watches entranced as Spock leans heavier over him, head tilting against the hedge, his lips parted, his eyes hooded even as he stares down into Jim’s.

Jim moans, kneading the bulge in his pants, and screws his eyes shut as he buries his nose in those wiry curls at Spock’s base. When Jim swallows around him, Spock gasps and jerks above him, his cock dripping so wet that it feels almost as if he’s cum already. But he is close. Jim can feel it in him, see it in his face. Strands of Spock’s hair are caught on the brambles of the hedge, and his hand curls so tight into Jim’s hair that Jim’s eyes begin to water.

But it’s worth it for the way Spock’s fucking into his mouth, letting out gasps and whimpers getting louder and harsher with each breath, each beat. And an ugly part of Jim wants someone to hear him. His mind fills with the thought as he closes his eyes and drags his tight lips along Spock’s length.

A sound rumbles from Spock’s chest, a primal kind of growl that sets Jim’s blood on fire, and with one deep thrust, Spock is cumming hot and wet down Jim’s throat as his fist in Jim’s hair clenches, yanking him back. Jim chokes, swallows hard around the pulsing dick against his tongue, holds Spock’s hips back so he can still stare up at him through his watering eyes. Every one of Spock’s muscles is taut and clenched, and Jim watches him throw his head back in a soundless cry of pleasure, baring his throat as if in submission.

With a few clumsy thrusts against Jim’s cheek, Spock takes himself in hand and pulls out, wiping his cock over Jim’s lips and smearing Jim’s mouth with those last few drops of cum. Jim licks it away, staring straight into Spock’s eyes as he palms himself. There’s the beginning of a smirk on Spock’s face, flushed and satisfied.

Spock releases himself after a moment, cups Jim’s cheek with his wet hand, and thumbs hard at the corner of Jim’s lips. “I did not expect the prince of Terra to kneel for me so easily,” he says softly, a little breathless. And though Jim should be proud of Spock’s obvious discomposure, the words throw him. “Will you now challenge me for your pleasure? Force me to obey your wishes?” Spock continues. “Or are you content to cater to mine?”

Maybe Spock feels Jim’s confusion as Jim pulls back. “What are you talking about?” Jim asks. “You want this, right?” It seems unfathomable that the answer won’t’ be ‘yes.’ He’s practically aching with anticipation, his cock throbbing, his slacks far too tight for comfort.

Spock raises an eyebrow and straightens, dropping his hand from Jim’s face. “You – you will not force me to kneel for you?” Spock asks, and now he looks just as confused as Jim is.

Jim’s eyes widen, and there’s no way he heard Spock correctly. The word ‘force’ never belongs in the bedroom. “I’m not going to ‘force’ you to do anything,” Jim says in quiet outrage.

For some reason, Spock looks disappointed. Their eyes meet. Though earlier it seemed they had no trouble communicating desire and intention without words — rather successfully if their current position is anything to go by – now it’s like their eyes are speaking entirely different languages.

Seeing something in Jim’s expression, Spock shakes his head and sinks gracefully to one knee. Crouched at Jim’s level, Jim expects Spock to come forward, maybe hover over him, pull open the fastening of Jim’s slacks and take him in his hand, in his mouth — anything .

But instead of coming any closer Spock stares at him, eye-to-eye, as he grabs his fallen robe and rises, shaking out the dust.

“What are you doing?” Jim asks, hissing a whisper as though someone might hear him, though miraculously no one seems to have heard what transpired already.

Spock drapes the sheet over his shoulder, tying it back around his waist as elegantly as before, hiding the wet patch in a fold. “I’m returning to the feast,” he responds, though there is a note of quiet upset in his voice.

“Now wait just a minute,” Jim says, managing to get to his feet.

“For what?” Spock asks.

Jim gestures somewhat lamely to the very obvious bulge in his pants, his erection miraculously undeterred by whatever the hell is happening right now. “I thought after I got you off, you might…” he trails off, unsure why reciprocal blow jobs are a hard concept for Spock to grasp.

“What I wanted,” Spock says, moving closer and resting a hand against Jim’s face, “was to test your strength, and my own. As I said, I did not expect you to submit without a fight. Do you kneel for everyone who tells you to?”

“Hey,” Jim says, slapping Spock’s hand away and taking a step back against the planter, “I ‘knelt’ because I damn well wanted to. I didn’t submit to you.”

“And yet, you did not resist at all,” Spock says. “No Vulcan would give up so easily. I am pleased to know I have power over you, but it would have pleased me more if you had fought for your pleasure.”

Jim shakes his head, completely dumbfounded. Did Spock want him to resist? Did Spock expect him to? The thought makes Jim’s skin itch.

“What does that even mean?” Jim asks. “You don't fight for ‘pleasure.’” But he pauses as a realization crashes over him. The differences between their cultures, the way the Vulcans treat even diplomacy as a battle. “ Do you?”

For a moment, Spock's expression flickers, as if he, like Jim, has only now realized the depth of the cultural misunderstanding they may have just stumbled into. “Of course we fight for pleasure. It is the game all Vulcans play. Pressure, resistance, yield and victory. We resist as long as is enjoyable for both, and give power to each other through submission – kneeling as you did, or allowing ourselves to be taken by another. Is this… different on Terra?”

Jim’s stomach drops, his heart freezing. “Oh, I knew this was a bad idea,” he says, rubbing his head. Of course Vulcans’ thoughts on sex would be as backward as their thoughts on diplomacy. He tries to steady his breath, turning away from Spock to hide his face – flushed now from shame rather than arousal. How could he have fucked this up so badly, and so quickly?

“I’m not going to pretend to resist,” he continues when Spock doesn’t speak. “Wouldn’t that be — Isn’t that uncomfortable for you?” He turns back to Spock, who raises an eyebrow at the question.

“No,” he says. “I would feel it in you, if you did not want me.”

“What do you mean, you would ‘feel’ it?” Jim asks. “Intuition’s not a substitute for consent.”

“It is not intuition,” Spock says, frustrated. He brings his hand to Jim’s wrist and holds it, the static sparking more intently between them. “No doubt you have heard of Vulcan telepathy. We sense emotions through touch.”

Jim feels Spock’s energy sparking up the line of his arm, and wonders how he didn’t connect the dots before. Vulcan telepathy was supposed to be a rumor, nothing more. But, well, Vulcans’ double-ridged dicks were supposed to be a rumor, too.

“Well I don’t have telepathy,” Jim says, yanking his wrist from Spock’s grasp. To Spock’s credit, he does release him. “How was I supposed to know you wanted me to fight you?”

“It is the game,” Spock says again, frustratingly opaque. “But you may still fight me. Challenge me for your pleasure. Convince me to kneel for you as I convinced you to kneel for me.”

“Convince?” Jim asks in outrage, trying to keep his voice down. “You didn’t convince me to do anything, and I’m not going to convince you, either. You’re only supposed to –“ he gestures between them. “ You know – if you want to.” The very idea of coercion in sex makes him sick. But then, he doesn't have the ability to know if and when it might become too much for his partner. And he wasn't raised in a culture that prizes competition.

Competition even in this, it seems.

“I see,” Spock says, and he sounds disappointed, confused, wrongfooted. Jim can't deny he’s disappointed himself. His erection is still aching, and in spite of the misunderstanding Jim wouldn’t mind taking a handful of Spock’s hair and shoving him to his knees in turn.

But instead, Jim sighs. “Sex isn’t a battle,” he says. “It’s a — a negotiation. I guess I should have realized that you wouldn’t see it that way.”

They regard each other for a moment, as Jim realizes he just sucked off and then reprimanded the prince of the planet Vulcan. But Spock doesn’t look like he’s going to rush out there and cause a diplomatic incident. In fact, he looks contrite. Though Jim knows better than to expect an apology from a Vulcan.

Beyond the hedges, the music comes to a droning stop, and the party breaks out into a round of applause. He can’t say they didn’t have perfect timing.

“So you do wish me to kneel for you?” Spock asks, as if it’s not obvious without a fight preceding it. Jim rolls his eyes.

“I did ,” he says, but he puts a hand to his forehead, looking away. “But this is exactly why this was such a bad idea. You clearly have no idea how we do things on Earth and I —” He pauses. “I think you should get back to the party,” he finishes. “I’ll follow after a minute so no one suspects anything, alright?”

A silence settles between them, filled by the conversations and echoing laughter rising up on the other side of the hedges.

“I find it ironic,” Spock says, “that you refuse to challenge me, and yet — it feels as though you are challenging me in this.”

“I hope it’s a different kind of challenge,” Jim says. “I’m not a fighter.”

“You are a negotiator,” Spock says slowly. Jim sees something coming together in Spock’s expression, almost like understanding. “And you leave me with much to consider.” Their eyes lock, and Jim knows Spock is going to consider it. Whether or not this should be the end of it, whatever is happening between them isn’t over yet.

Jim hates himself for feeling a small bit of relief at that realization.

With a deep breath, Spock gives Jim a short bow. “Until next time then, Prince James.” Then, he straightens his skirt and circles the hedges, leaving Jim alone in the shadow.

“Damn it,” Jim curses quietly, grabbing himself and trying to will his erection away.

But will alone won’t do it in time. Now that the band has stopped, Jim has no doubt someone will soon wonder where he is. With a frustrated sigh, Jim falls back against the planter and undoes the fastening of his pants. He curls his fingers around his erection, closes his eyes, and his traitorous mind decides to imagine that his hand is Spock’s hand, and the hot Vulcan air is Spock’s hot breath on his neck.

In moments, he’s biting his fist against a groan, spurting white against the red dust of the garden path under his feet.

Chapter Text

Immediately following the encounter in the garden, Jim decides rather logically that he must avoid Spock as much as humanly possible for the remainder of their time on Vulcan. He’s embarrassed by his own irresponsibility, furious that Spock couldn’t understand his objections to the “game,” and mostly still incredibly sexually frustrated, though it was his choice not to play along.

Of course, there isn’t any way to avoid Spock entirely .

For one, there’s breakfast the day after the feast, set out at a long, low table in an open-air dining room, with the royal families, greater clan leaders, and advisors present. Jim may sit ten cushions away from Spock, but he swears he feels Spock’s eyes on him more than once. He’d never confirm it, though. He avoids looking at Spock the entire meal.

Then the party moves to the more intimate negotiation room, where the majority of their talks are meant to take place. While Vulcans are far too impatient for hours of negotiation — a practice for which Terrans seem to have endless stamina — the nature of this visit means that they do still have to sit down for a while each day to discuss possible terms of an alliance.

So after breakfast they take their seats around the circular table in the small but high-ceilinged room, and due to the configuration it’s nearly impossible for Jim to avoid Spock’s eyes forever. He does make a damn good show of it, though. For a while.

Thankfully, he finds himself distracted from his own thoughts by the matters at hand. Sarek begins the talks by reaffirming his desire that they reach an agreement through combat. The ‘peacemaking way of the Terrans’ goes against his every instinct and better judgment, he says, but Jim’s pretty sure from the way he’s talking, and the way all the Vulcans shift restlessly on their cushions, that he and his fellows are simply bored by the idea of too much talking.

This theory proves true a mere two hours into the meeting. Queen Winona and King George have barely managed to summarize most of the terms of the 30-year-old armistice when Sarek holds up a tired hand.

“That is enough,” Sarek says, seemingly the moment Terra’s monarchs pause for breath. “We may resume in the afternoon.”

The king and queen look at each other, then glance around to their cultural advisors. “But we haven’t really started,” George says, some of his royal decorum leaving him with his obvious disappointment. “Maybe we can forego the summary of the armistice and —“

“You mean to tell me you were not finished summarizing the armistice?” Sarek asks, a note of horror in his voice. “I did sign it, as I’m certain you’re aware. I know what it said.”

Jim fights back a smile at the indignation in Sarek’s voice. Seeking someone’s eyes to see if anyone else found that as funny as he did, he accidentally shifts his gaze to Spock — Spock, who’s smiling at him somewhat gently.

Jim looks away at once.

George and Winona heft sighs in tandem. “Very well,” Winona says. “Shall we reconvene in a standard hour?”

Sarek barks a laugh and glances at his advisors, a group of youthful clan leaders with braided hair who make all of Terra’s advisors look like moldy raisins. “ Four standard hours,” Sarek decides, standing. “I will oversee a short training exercise in the meantime.”

The rest of the table stands with him, and Jim glances to his parents, wondering if they’re going to just accept that steamroll.

“Alright,” George says, and Jim supposes that’s his answer. “Four standard hours. I guess …” He looks to his wife, as if asking for her a suggestion of what to do, but she just shrugs, shaking her head. Jim knows this isn’t an ideal turn of events, but he can’t help finding it a little funny. Earth has participated in hundreds of talks of negotiation, and he has never seen his parents at a loss like this.

But a sudden thought sobers him: Maybe Sarek wants them to fight for their time on the floor, to challenge him, as Spock wanted Jim to challenge him . Maybe the game is the same.

But if that’s the case, none of the Terrans know how to play it.

Sarek doesn’t seem to notice their indecision. He waves his hand for his clan leaders to follow, and they do, falling into line behind him — all but Spock.

“We will see you soon,” Sarek says to the king and queen as he passes. “You may enjoy our library as you wait. It is quite extensive.”

“And all written in Vulcan,” an advisor mutters somewhere behind Jim. But the king and queen follow Sarek out the door anyway, talking in low tones to each other as if they’ve forgotten about Jim entirely. He supposes, as the room begins to empty, that he could join them. Or, he could go back to his room and read something in a language he fully understands. But before he’s had a chance to decide on any activity to fill the next four hours, a figure draws up beside him.

Whether he likes it or not, he does meet Spock’s eyes.

“What are your plans, Prince James?” Spock asks, in a tone of voice that suggests he knows Jim has none.

Jim puts a little distance between them, entirely unwilling to get distracted by Spock’s pleasant scent. There are still advisors and dignitaries milling about the room, so he certainly doesn’t want to directly discuss what happened between them yesterday. But he can let it be known that he has no plans to be so reckless with Spock again.

“I’ll figure something out,” he says.

“If I may offer a suggestion —“

“If it’s anything like your last suggestion,” Jim interrupts, “then I’ll pass.”

Spock draws back slightly, his smile slipping. “I had planned to suggest you walk through the city,” he says, “perhaps visit the marketplace.”

Jim can’t help a little jolt of surprise, and a much less welcome surge of traitorous disappointment. Not that he would take Spock up on any untoward offer right now, but a dark part of him kind of wishes Spock had made one. Though of course it may take more than a day for Spock to overwrite his cultural programming and understand Jim’s own.

“Oh,” Jim says, glancing around. His parents have already left the room, as has Sarek. He admits the idea of getting a peek at Vulcan culture outside the palace is intriguing, and it’s not like anyone’s going to stop him. “Is it safe?” He asks. “Anyone over the age of 30 on this planet probably won’t be too happy to see a Terran walking around.”

“I would, of course, accompany you,” Spock says.

Jim’s eyes widen. “What? Why?” As frustrated as he was with Spock yesterday, he assumed the good dorli kahr-lan might be just as frustrated with him. After all, Jim rejected his little power play. He doesn’t know much about Vulcans beyond what’s in the dossiers, but he can imagine they don’t take rejection well.

“It may be a good chance for us to get to know each other,” Spock says. And he realizes — Spock does want to get him alone again. Though, maybe not for the reasons Jim assumed moments ago.

Recovering himself, Jim shrugs in feigned indifference. “Alright,” he says. “If it’s not below the dorli kahr-lan to play tour guide.”

“It would be an honor,” Spock says, and Jim senses something delicately mocking in his tone.

Jim scoffs, holding out his hand to the door. “Then lead the way,” he says.

 


 

By the time they have walked the long, winding path down the cliffside to the city of Shi’kahr, it’s hot enough that Jim has already shed his thick overshirt and tied it haphazardly around his waist. His undershirt, blessedly sleeveless, allows the desert breeze to cool his sweating skin, and he isn’t nearly as uncomfortable in the sun as he was when he was forced to wear his formal clothes yesterday.

Spock walks dutifully and silently beside him, bare feet red from the dust, hair disturbed slightly by the wind. Jim doesn’t much care for the way the sun alights the peaks of his cheeks or the hard line of his collar, nor the way it casts shadows at every dip of muscle. Or, rather, he cares for the effect quite a bit, and doesn’t trust himself not to stare.

So he looks forward, eyes drawn to the towering spindles of buildings, the rising glass edifices, the homes like crooked stacks of tiny boxes that line the avenue ahead. As the day is wearing into afternoon, the city feels full and alive with Vulcans holding loud conversations, walking along the side of the road. A few large, hovering transport cars float lazily past. Jim sticks close to Spock as they integrate into the crowd, imminently aware of the accusatory looks thrown his way by those Vulcans who notice him.

And really, it would be difficult not to notice him. While he still wears his long white slacks and the undershirt that covers his chest and stomach, most of the people he sees are wearing draped chitons like Spock’s, or short skirts of brightly colored linen that leave little to the imagination. Their dark hair, nearly always worn long, either cascades down their bare backs, or nestles on their heads in elaborate buns and braids. He follows every figure he sees with his eyes, recognizing that they may be staring at him only because he’s staring at them.

“I assume you have not seen so many Vulcans in one place before,” Spock says as they walk, weaving slowly in and out of the foot traffic.

“The most Vulcans I’ve ever seen in one place was last night in the garden,” Jim admits. “Believe it or not, Vulcans aren’t exactly common on Earth.”

“As Terrans are not common here,” Spock concedes. “They find you exotic.”

Jim catches the eye of a Vulcan woman passing them, her face tight with distaste.

“That’s not the word I would use,” Jim says, forgetting himself for a moment and giving Spock a small smile. Spock returns it, flashing his teeth, and Jim’s heart does an uncomfortable summersault in his chest.

He clears his throat to cover it. “Well anyway,” he says, returning his eyes to the city at large, “I’d much rather be considered exotic than a threat.”

Spock nods slightly from beside him. “I do not believe many Vulcans consider Terrans a threat anymore. Our enemies now are our own brothers, and Terra cares too much for peace for its dignitaries to worry our warriors.”

Jim casts a small glance Spock’s way, but doesn’t look at him for long. ‘Our own brothers,’ Spock had said. Of course, that phrase rings truer for Spock than it does for most Vulcans.

“The rebel leader — Sybok — is your brother, right?” Jim asks, though he knows the answer. Sybok leads the largest rebel insurgence on the planet, the only one that has managed to actually cause trouble for Sarek’s rule. The fact that Sybok is Sarek’s first son is common knowledge, and Spock would know that Jim is aware of the situation.

But Spock doesn’t seem to mind the question. “He is,” he says, his voice resigned. “He has been dissatisfied with my father’s rule, especially our recent lack of aggression toward Terra. If he had simply waited for my father’s death, he could have been the next sa-te'kru and guided the planet as he pleased. You may have noticed, Prince James, patience is not a common Vulcan trait. Yet he has less of it than most.”

Jim has certainly noticed a lack of patience in the Vulcans he’s met — the fact that Spock had his cock down Jim’s throat merely two hours after meeting him comes to mind as the most glaring example. He can’t really imagine a discontent son waiting decades for his chance to rule.

“But your father’s throne is secure, right?” Jim asks, because it’s something they haven’t really established yet — something they hoped to establish in today’s peace talks.

Spock nods. “Our capital city, and every loyal settlement and clan outpost, is protected by the most advanced network of shields in the quadrant, and our ask’er, our army, is fearless. Sybok’s forces will shatter soon enough. We are not worried.”

Jim nods, considering.

They’ve been walking down the avenue for a while now, and up ahead Jim’s eyes scan a milling crowd of people, bustling around in what seems to be a large square. Brightly colored awnings wave lazily in the breeze above the crowd’s heads, and the sound of music reaches his ears.

The square — probably the marketplace Spock mentioned — is far more crowded than the road itself. Admittedly, with the talk of rebellion, a crowded market doesn’t seem like the wisest place for two princes to go wandering alone. But he has to remind himself that Vulcans don’t pick off people in crowds with hidden knives, nor do they sneak into defensible cities. Vulcan combat is face-to-face, evenly matched, fierce and violent. Not quiet. Nothing about Vulcans is quiet.

“Are you uncomfortable?” Spock asks, his hand coming to Jim’s elbow to slow him. Jim glances down at the contact before he can stop himself, then meets Spock’s eyes. He’s just grateful the heat can account for the flush to his cheeks, rather than the entirely innocent touch. He’s sure he wouldn’t be so affected by it if he hadn’t already envisioned in great detail what those hands were capable of.  

“No,” Jim replies, a small lie. He is uncomfortable, but only because Spock’s fingers are resting on his bare arm, tingling gently against his skin, and Jim wants Spock to keep touching him.

Spock’s eyes seem alight with something — something almost playful. “If you wish to avoid the crowd,” he says, “we might find somewhere more secluded to explore.”

Jim considers the offer for a moment before Spock releases his arm, and he realizes an absence of feeling — something that had prickled between their skin and now is gone. And it hits him: Spock was reading his emotions.

Jim finds it in himself to smile. “‘More secluded,’” he repeats, “like behind a few hedges?”

Spock doesn’t seem to be ashamed of having been found out. “If you should like,” he says.

Rolling his eyes, Jim laughs. “You think after yesterday I’m just going to let you drag me off into an alley to deal with that alpha-male power play again?”

Spock returns his eyes to the avenue, and they keep walking. “Perhaps not,” Spock concedes with a small smile. “But I am intrigued. Can you explain exactly what you found distasteful about our encounter? I still do not understand.”

Jim slows, looking to Spock almost suspiciously. “Why are you asking?”

“Because I want to take you on your knees,” Spock says casually, “and you want me to take you. That should be enough.” Jim stops dead in his tracks and Spock turns to face him, a question in his eyes. Sidestepping closer to the buildings lining the street, Jim grabs Spock’s elbow, pulling him away from the traffic of the sidewalk path.

“Maybe this isn’t the place to talk about it,” Jim says quietly, eyes flicking toward the crowd, and Spock just shrugs.

“Few will overhear, and none will care,” Spock replies. “Sex is not taboo here as it is on Earth.”

“I’m not worried about that ,” Jim says. “It’s the little fact that you’re the Vulcan prince and I’m a visiting dignitary, and this is inappropriate in about a thousand different ways.”

“Inappropriate by your standards,” Spock concedes. “We Vulcans are as used to solving conflicts through sex as we are through battle.”

Jim’s head reels. “I’m sorry, what ?”

“They are one and the same. Sex and combat,” Spock says. “This is our way, but not yours. I understand that now. Just as I understand that, until I asked you to challenge me, you enjoyed kneeling for me.”

Recognizing that statement isn’t a question, Jim feels there’s little point in denying it to a touch telepath. Still, he lowers his voice when he responds. Just because Spock has an inside look into what he likes in bed doesn’t mean all of Shi’kahr needs to know. “I like it a little rough,” Jim admits. “I like being yanked around and told what to do. What I don’t like is when my partner assumes they’re stronger than me because I let them do it.”

Spock looks fully at him, eyebrow raised. “And if I were to tell you that I do not find you weak?”

“Then you’d have to explain why you said you had ‘power’ over me just because I wanted to suck you off.”

Spock tightens his jaw, looking frustrated. “It is the game, Prince James,” he says. “If you were Vulcan, you would have proven your strength to me then, as I proved mine to you. And we both would have been satisfied. I did not understand — do not understand, why you gave in so easily.”

“Because if you were human, you would have taken any resistance from me as a cue to slow down or stop altogether,” Jim shoots back. “I was having a good time. I wasn’t about to tell you to stop or — I don't know, tell you I wanted to get off first.”

“If you had, I would have known that you did not mean it,” Spock says. “This is how we do things.”

“Well it's not how we do things,” Jim reminds him. “We — we talk things out. Set up clear boundaries and rules before we do anything even remotely like what you’re describing. And if — if something happens between us again, you and I are going to do the same.”

Spock’s lips curl up in a slight smile. “So you do still want me to take you.”

Jim’s chest deflates, and he feels like his point has fallen completely flat. “If this weren’t Earth’s most important diplomatic visit since first contact, maybe. But I think the fact that we’re even having this conversation is proof we should just — leave this all behind us. Right?”

“I believe,” Spock says, “the fact that we are having this conversation is proof that you wish to establish the rules and boundaries you deem so important.”

Jim stares at him, those dark, knowing eyes. And all he wants to do is argue Spock’s admittedly solid point. “I just wanted you to understand why I was upset yesterday,” Jim says. “And now you do.”

“But you are attracted to me.”

With a deep breath, Jim backs away. “Obviously,” he admits, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sneak off with you the second you bat your eyes at me. I don’t know if Vulcans are capable, but humans can think with something other than our dicks.” Spock gives him a bemused sort of look. Clearly that’s not a common expression here.

“Don’t worry about it,” Jim says, and he waves Spock away. “It was a bad idea to start with, and now it’s over.”

“You sound certain of that,” Spock says with a little smile.

“I don’t say anything I’m not certain of,” Jim says.

“Nor do I,” Spock replies. “And I must say that I am certain it felt like a good idea at the time.”

Jim lets out a shocked little laugh and shoves at Spock’s shoulder. “Well that’s because you actually got your dick sucked,” he says, though he’s mindful enough to keep his voice lowered. “One of us didn’t have the privilege.”

“I could fix that,” Spock says, and Jim gives him a sideways smile.

“It’s a negotiation, remember? Make me an offer, and I’ll consider it.”

Of course, any more of this would be as irresponsible as their first encounter in the garden, but Jim can admit he likes the idea of giving Spock something to think about. If Spock gets off on being challenged… well, he must love this.

Spock opens his mouth to speak, but Jim moves past him, making his way pointedly back down the avenue toward the marketplace. “Anyway, we didn’t come to the city to talk, right? You have a job to do. I have no idea where I’m going and you’re supposed to be my guide.”

Spock smiles, though it seems somewhat unsure. “As you desire, Prince James,” he says.

They make their way toward the square, toward an intoxicating medley of scents and sounds, and with a tap on his shoulder Spock draws Jim’s attention toward a near row of booths and tables displaying food of all sorts — purple-hued soups in hand-hewn bowls, thick slabs of meat sizzling on flat grills, puffy rolls of some kind of bread laid out on parchment paper, and a huge cooking pot full of thick, steaming claws that could have come from a giant crab if Jim didn’t know any better.

“Perhaps we may begin with lunch,” Spock suggests.

And Jim smiles, relieved to leave the subject of sex behind, following as Spock guides him toward the spread.

It isn’t hard to spend four hours in the marketplace, it turns out. At the booth with the huge crab claws, Spock introduces him to the vendor, an old woman with bright amber eyes that belie her age. Together, she and Spock demonstrate for Jim how to break the claws to get the meat, twisting them open with loud cracks that echo like old-fashioned gunshots throughout the square. Jim has a bit of trouble, admittedly, but when he finally gets the damn thing open and slurps out the salty meat, he grins with unrestrained delight, and has to stop himself from asking the vendor for more.

After that, they wander together through the booths, Jim sticking fairly close to Spock out of necessity more than desire — or so he tells himself. Occasionally, Spock grabs his wrist to guide him, or brushes up against him to squeeze through the crowd, and each time Jim wonders if Spock’s reading his thoughts. His emotions. If Spock knows that Jim’s enjoying himself, in spite of the fact that he didn’t want to.

They don’t buy any of the clothing, the trinkets or the jewelry on display at the marketplace, but they visit nearly every booth and chat with nearly every vendor (all of whom seem to get over their suspicion of Jim fast enough once Spock introduces him), and by the time they’ve reached the front of the square where they began and decide to make their way back to the palace, the sun has moved far in the sky.

As they walk in companionable silence, Jim realizes that he managed to forget about all the stares he was receiving, about the threat of rebellion and the delicate talks of peace. Somehow he even forgot about yesterday’s disaster and the awkward conversation he shared with Spock mere hours ago. He just allowed himself to live in the moment, the way Vulcans tend to do.

And yes, okay, damn it, he had a good time.

If Spock notices that Jim has relaxed, he doesn’t comment on it. And Jim’s thankful for that. He doesn’t want Spock thinking that this casual companionship means Jim’s willing to get on his knees again, now that he knows how Vulcans view the gesture.

Thankfully, by the time they return to the palace, it’s also time to return to business. Jim has just enough time to bathe, find some clean formal clothes, and return to the negotiation room before they launch back in.

 


 

Far from throwing a wrench in their momentum, the hours-long break seems to have re-invigorated the Terran delegation, and George and Winona waste no time in laying out their hopes for the alliance — perhaps trying to fit as much in as they can before Sarek calls it quits again.

Though the relationship between the two powers seems more friendly after the party last night, Sarek maintains a stony, disappointed expression the longer George and Winona talk, turning up his nose at Earth's technology, natural resources, and even free travel through Terran space. An hour passes, then two, and Jim watches his parents becoming more and more frustrated, and Sarek steadily closing off at every attempt to enter his good graces.

Though Jim refuses to meet Spock’s eyes across the negotiation table, he swears he can feel Spock’s gaze on him as the talk progresses. It’s almost a tangible weight, a scrutiny that makes Jim hot at his collar for more reasons than one.

Of course, there’s plenty to distract Jim, albeit all quite a bit less interesting than Spock himself.

“You see,” Winona says somewhere around hour three, “if we were to integrate your military technology, specifically the cloaking device you stole  from the Romulans, into our military, we would be uniquely situated to come to your aid in the event of Klingon aggression.”

“It is not Klingon aggression I fear,” Sarek says, brows knit, “but the rebels of my own planet. Klingons are a distant threat to us, and one we may address if they become more troublesome. That the Klingons are a threat to you means nothing. At this very moment, my warriors fight rebel forces at no fewer than ten separate fronts across the planet — forces commanded by my own son. If we cannot count your support against them, against Sybok, I do not understand why we are speaking at all.”

“With respect, father,” Spock says, the first words he’s spoken the entire time, and Jim finally does glance toward him. “The Terrans have not said they would not support us against my brother.”

All eyes turn toward Earth’s king and queen. “And would you?” Sarek asks with a bite of aggression in his tone. “To ally with the planet Vulcan means to ally against its enemies.”

Winona and George turn toward their closest advisor, whispering to him for a moment, but Jim’s eyes are on Sarek, whose thin patience seems to be waning.

“Of course we would help you with the rebels,” Jim says as every human eye at the table snaps angrily to him. “Our reports show that you’ve ruled this planet fairly and freely. Resources are flourishing; the planet’s economy is stable. The rebels are sowing unrest and forcing violence, when most of your subjects seem to be happy with your rule — or at least happy enough not to challenge your army for it. Every Vulcan I spoke to in the marketplace today said so.”

“Jim!” George snaps, but Jim tosses his hands in the air.

“Well, we’ve said that if we can confirm Sarek is a fair ruler, we’ll support him. I’ve read the dossiers; I’ve spoken to his people. We confirmed it months ago and we’ve seen it at every turn since we arrived. I don’t know why we’re wasting time talking about it when the answer is clear. Of course our first step would be to mediate peace negotiations with the rebels and try to come to an agreement — I won’t argue that — but if military power is necessary to protect your people… ”

He glances around. The Vulcans, including Sarek and Spock most importantly, are wearing looks of suspicious approval, but his parents are staring at him with their eyes narrowed.

“Prince James has no power to negotiate on behalf of our planet,” George snaps, more at Jim than the Vulcans. When he addresses them again, he sounds resigned. “But … he is correct. We have evaluated the way your government has treated its people. We would be willing to support you against the rebels, should it come to that. Though peace is the obvious preference.”

Beside him, one of the advisors elbows Jim hard in the side. Jim doesn't appreciate the gesture, but the message has been received. Keep your mouth shut, Your Highness.

So Jim does. But he can’t help glowing a little bit that he was able to interject effectively. Sarek’s posture eases as he gives Jim an approving nod of his head.

More than that, though, Jim glows under the gaze he refuses to meet, Spock’s eyes on him unflinching, even as the conversation moves on. Sarek claims that peace is impossible and, moreover, undesirable, and George and Winona take up a new battle — trying to convince him otherwise.

Neither Jim nor Spock contributes further to the talks, both listening without input as they’re meant to do. But Jim can’t help thinking that he may have secured Spock’s attention even more intently than before.

By the time they end the day’s deliberations — no closer to alliance than they were this morning — Jim risks a single glance in Spock’s direction. His eyes are dark, intent once again, and Jim gives him a smile.

Maybe, a challenge.

 


 

After dinner, Jim returns to his room and sheds his shirts immediately, grateful to be alone at last. He’s been given a wide and comfortable (if a bit austere) bedchamber to call his own while he’s here, but it’s a shame he hasn’t spent much time in it yet.

In a square divot in the center of the polished floor, piles of white cushions and blankets form a kind of nest, where Jim, exhausted as he is, considers flopping down immediately. But even as a swath of violet spreads over the sky outside like watercolor, it’s not quite late enough to crawl in. Instead, he washes up in the hygienic nook off in the corner, fiddles with the environmental controls on the wall to cool the damn place down, and finally settles down on a cushion in the small seating area near the window. And god, what a window. It spans the entire wall from floor to ceiling, as if there isn’t even a barrier between him and the cliffside far below. From here, Jim can see the entirety of the city, and the desert beyond striped with rural roads.

Even as he sinks comfortably into the cushion, he knows there’s plenty he could be doing. He could go back over the dossiers if he wants to be even more prepared for tomorrow’s talks. He could read military reports, keep up with the movement of the Klingon ships Earth has been tracking. Hell, he could read a book, get his mind off everything.

But instead he stares out his window, admittedly lost in thought.

Night here isn’t as dark as it is on Earth, since Vulcan’s closest planet is quite a bit closer than any of Earth’s neighbors, and the city of Shi’Kahr below their mountain perch shines brightly in the growing dark. Its blue glow casts the red stone of the polished floor in gorgeous, unfamiliar colors.

It’s strange, looking over this peaceful city while knowing that rebel cells are currently causing havoc throughout the planet. Though he never would’ve said so in the negotiations, he hates the idea that Vulcans can be so violent and so arrogant that they will not concede to one ruler, no matter how fair he is. It’s a battle of pride that Earth surpassed so many centuries ago, and he can’t quite understand how a planet this advanced still suffers those struggles. Barring of course that this struggle, Sybok leading the rebels, may be more familial than cultural in origin.

But whatever the reasons for the rebellion, Jim’s fully aware that fighting, wrestling power, refusing to concede is just the Vulcan way. Vulcans are pure will. Pure fire. Pure passion. Violent and dangerous, and …

Jim sighs, aware that his thoughts might run away with him again. It’s hard to think of Vulcan passion without thinking of its immediate example. Spock. Spock’s breath on his neck, his teeth in Jim’s skin where Jim can still feel the bite. Passion — even overwhelming Vulcan passion — might not be the worst thing in the world. A quote rises half-formed and half-remembered in his mind: something about the space between desire and fear being the width of an eyelash.

Chuckling to himself, he shakes his head, rises reluctantly to his feet, and turns away from the window. If he were smart, he’d get some rest, but Jim knows himself better than that. Though he’ll deny the impulse for a little while once he crawls into bed, he knows he may very well spend the night revisiting the image of Spock’s chest and arms in the sunlight, revisiting the feeling of that thick cock between his lips.

After all, there’s no harm in fantasy, is there? No need to concede to stupid power games, no need to put this delicate alliance at risk. He can just imagine, and hopefully find some satisfaction. More than he found in the garden yesterday, at least.

So he slips into some comfortable pants, tossing his formal slacks to the floor. But just as he steps down into his bed, sinking pleasantly into the soft cushion, the door chime dings.

Jim pauses, standing there and staring at it for a moment. It’s late enough that he can’t imagine anyone would be coming to pay him a visit.

Except, of course, the one person Jim had hoped and dreaded might track him down. With a breath, he crosses the room toward the door, and presses the command screen. The door slides open with a sound of scraping stone and, sure enough, Spock stands in the blue light of the corridor as if summoned by Jim’s thoughts.

“Spock,” Jim says, voice echoing slightly through the chamber of his room. Spock’s lips are curled in that smug kind of smirk, and Jim crosses his arms over his bare chest as if on instinct.

“Prince James,” Spock greets with a duck of his head, his voice pleasantly low.

“It’s late,” Jim observes nonchalantly. “What are you doing here?” It’s an unnecessary question; he thinks he has a pretty damn good idea.

“I have come to offer a proposal.”

Jim snorts, hoping it sounds as derisive as he wants it to. “I thought neither of us was in a position to negotiate.”

“On behalf of our planets, perhaps not,” Spock concedes. “But there are other matters which might benefit from negotiation. May I come in?”

Oh, Jim does want him to. The possibility of it buzzes under his skin. “We can talk out here,” Jim says instead of giving in. He steps forward, urging Spock to step back, and the door closes behind him. They’re left standing in the hallway — where it’s safe, Jim thinks. He’s much less likely to do anything inappropriate if they’re out in the open.

Or, well, before yesterday he would have believed that to be the case.

Spock responds with an amused sort of smile, almost approving. “Perhaps you may change your mind,” he says lowly. “And if not, I am more than willing to make good on my proposition right here in the hallway.”

Jim’s cocksure smile fades slightly as the breath seems to leave his lungs in one wave. Those tell-tale tendrils of arousal are already flowing through his bloodstream like a slowly spreading poison.

“I’m listening,” Jim says, mouth dry.

“You had said that I was a poor negotiator,” Spock begins. “This is likely true. And by your own admission, you are not a fighter.”

Eyes narrowing, Jim tightens the arms over his chest. “Yes..?” he prompts, and Spock’s smile widens.

“I understand now that you do not wish to fight for your pleasure and, in fact, humans typically do not. Your refusal then to play this game was not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.”

“Figured that out all on your own, did you?” Jim asks, feeling a smile blooming in spite of himself. Spock responds with one of his own, albeit he looks almost deferential. Sheepish.

“I respect strength,” Spock continues. “And I have not encountered your kind of strength before.”

This takes Jim off-guard for a moment, and without really intending it his hands fall flat to his sides. “You’ve... well, you’ve certainly changed your tune,” he says, and Spock raises an eyebrow. Idioms, it seems, fail to translate well in most situations. Jim moves past it, shaking his head. “So, alright, you finally heard what I was saying. May I ask what this has to do with your proposal?”

Spock steps forward slightly, and Jim moves back in turn, his back hitting the door, though Spock doesn’t pin him there. He maintains just enough distance to remain in the blue window beam, while Jim stays shadowed by the doorway.

“You don’t enjoy Vulcan games,” Spock says, “but you do enjoy being conquered. Consider that you do not need to fight me, if you do not want to. And when I take you I will know that you submit nothing, even on your knees. No matter what is said.”

“‘No matter what is said?’” Jim echoes. “What are you planning to say ?”

“I may assert my power over you,” Spock says, eyes tracing the bare lines of Jim’s body as if envisioning him powerless. That gaze makes Jim shiver. “I may tell you how easy it was to conquer you. I may even call you weak. But you would know that you have already proven your strength to me. You would know it is part of the game.”

Jim swallows, his breath hollowing slightly at the thought of Spock hanging over him like he did in the garden, his strong fist in Jim’s hair, only this time pretending to overpower him even as he gives that precious control to Jim. “Sounds like a different game to me,” Jim says, trying to sound casual, though he can tell by Spock’s expression that Spock knows he’s getting somewhere.

“It is,” Spock says. “A compromise.”

Jim feels himself smile. “A negotiation.”

Spock’s teeth flash in the dim light, and he comes closer, his hand coming to rest on the bare line of Jim’s waist. Electricity seems to crack between them, the gentle static of Spock’s skin against his own making Jim shudder.

Leaning in, Spock’s lips hover over Jim’s own. “But tonight, I am willing to kneel for you,” he whispers. “Without conceding my power or yours.”

“’Willing,’” Jim scoffs, his hand climbing Spock’s chest, slipping under the shoulder of his chiton. “You mean you want to.”

Spock huffs a little chuckle. “I want to,” he confirms.

“And what makes you think I want you to now?” Jim asks. As Spock moves nearly against him, cloaking himself in the shadow of the doorway, his fingers dip just under the waistband of Jim’s pants. He glances down, drawing obvious attention to the beginnings of an erection. Jim swallows, leaning heavier against the wall. “Ah,” he says, “that. Well, like I said, I’m capable of thinking past my dick.”

Though even as he says it, he recognizes that it’s becoming more and more difficult to think of anything but Spock’s hand brushing against his sensitive skin as he edges lower. The proximity of Spock’s body. “You have already proven this to me,” Spock says.

“I’m not trying to prove anything to you.”

“Then you have already proven it to yourself. And that is enough. You know you can refuse me if you want to. I simply do not believe that you want to.”

He’s got Jim on that one. The last thing Jim wants to do is resist, not with Spock close to him, his scent and his heat and the power of him right there within Jim’s grasp. Power, willing to kneel for Jim. The gesture may mean more to Spock than even Spock is letting on.

“What do you get out of this?” Jim asks, a question he needs to know the answer to before this goes a moment farther. “I’m sure you have plenty of partners willing to play your game your way.”

“I like the way you challenge me,” Spock says, “and you have challenged me since the moment we met. You have impressed me,  entertained me, and, beyond all else, intrigued me. You are different, Prince James. It would be an honor to hold power over you —” Jim opens his mouth to protest, but Spock continues, “ and to give you power over me.”

Jim knows, looking into Spock's eyes, that he should shove Spock back, stick to his earlier convictions. He shouldn’t give into that hot breath against his lips, that battle-hardened hand dipping farther below his waistband. But how delicious is the idea of Spock on his knees for him? How tempting is the idea of playing this game, if even for one night?

“You’re a better negotiator than I gave you credit for,” Jim admits. He grips Spock’s shoulder tighter, granting without voice the permission Spock can already feel in him.

“Perhaps, in this,” Spock says, moving up against Jim fully, “I do not need a clear victory.” He wraps his fingers around Jim’s cock over the thin fabric of his underwear, tracing the outline of Jim’s erection.

Jim shudders — he can’t help it. His body is very definitely reacting without his permission now, his erection hardening in Spock’s hand, his fingertips tingling. That feeling from the garden returns, the desperate inevitability of attraction that forced them together in the first place.

And it is a bad idea. The worst Jim’s had in a very long time. But he knew that yesterday, too. At least this time it’s a bad idea that will leave him satisfied.

“Just this once,” he whispers. The words barely leave his mouth before Spock shoves forward, pressing Jim hard against the door and taking his lips in a fierce human kiss. His hand tightens around Jim’s cock, and Jim hisses into Spock’s mouth.

His hands move on instinct, grabbing Spock by the hair and tugging him in closer, tilting his head to take Spock’s rough tongue into his mouth. They kiss desperately, as if Spock wants this just as badly as he wants Jim to play his game, as if he’s been thinking about that kiss in the garden. It may have been — must have been — the first human kiss of Spock’s life. And he liked it. With pride drugging him nearly as much as arousal, Jim bites Spock’s bottom lip, heart racing at Spock's grunt of mingled pleasure and pain. Spock’s free hand curls again into Jim’s hair and he tugs him back, pulling away from the kiss.

Regaining his breath, Spock smiles, his lips shining. “What?” Jim asks, strained.

Spock’s eyes flick down each end of the empty corridor before returning to Jim’s. “May I come in now?” He asks.

Ice spreads through Jim’s veins. Fear. Desire. In a flashing moment, Jim imagines dragging Spock down into that huge bed, stripping him to nothing, spending all night impaled on Spock’s cock as they writhe together, and waking up sore and slick tomorrow morning. But he knows that if he opens that door to Spock then he won’t be able to resist letting him back in. This is just a one-time arrangement, a more equitable continuation of yesterday. It’s late; they’re in the shadow of the doorway; and it is safer out here.

“No,” Jim decides.

Spock’s responding smile looks wicked. “You continue to surprise me, Prince James,” he says. “You want witnesses? To prove the dorli kahr-lan of Vulcan submitted himself to a weak Terran?”

The words sound playful, the first lines spoken in their own private game. And Jim realizes that Spock was right. He might even enjoy it. He could dare to play along.

“What I want,” Jim says lowly, “is to see you on your knees.”

Spock lets out a heavy breath and he curls his fingers into the waistbands of Jim’s pants and underwear. “As you wish,” he says. And Spock sinks to his knees, stripping Jim bare.

Jim glances up and down the corridor, heart pounding with the possibility of discovery once again. Has he always gotten off on that? Or is it simply because this — Spock taking him in-hand, looking up at Jim with those purposive eyes — is so wholly forbidden? So awfully inappropriate?

As Spock leans forward and takes Jim’s head into his mouth without a moment’s hesitation, Jim decides it’s probably that second one.

“God,” he groans quietly, mindful of the corridor’s echo. His fingers tighten in Spock’s hair. “You’d better do this quick.”

Spock hums assent around him, sinking forward and swallowing as his hand tightens around Jim’s base. Jim’s hardening fast now, melting against the door as Spock’s rough tongue curls around him. Jim puts a hand to his mouth to muffle the sounds he already wants to let loose, his eyelids fluttering as he stares down into Spock’s eyes.

Jim’s bedroom is right there — right there. And Jim’s an idiot for prioritizing the immediacy of guilty pleasure over the safety of privacy, but if it means Spock sucking him off in an open corridor as if Jim’s pleasure is his priority too, well, Jim thinks he might as well be an idiot more often. This is going to be fast.

Spock stares up at him, and Jim wonders how he can still look smug when his lips are stretched tight around Jim’s cock. He tongues the underside, dragging long licks from base to tip as he bobs his head. Jim’s lost in the sight of him like that on his knees, the reflection of starlight on stone painting him in night and shadow, his strong, bare shoulders held tight.

Movement draws Jim’s eye downward, where Spock’s hand disappears under his skirt, taking hold of himself. At the sight, Jim’s blood rushes straight southward, and he wonders in that moment if Spock was going to get off to thoughts of Jim tonight, provided Jim had rejected him. He wonders if they would’ve cum together anyway, rooms apart, thinking of each other and fucking into their own hands.

Spock lets out a muffled groan around Jim’s length, and Jim realizes that with the intimacy of touch, Spock may very well be reading all of this with his telepathy.

“Can you —“ Jim chokes, thunking his head back against the door. “Can you hear my thoughts?“

Spock hums, grazing his teeth lightly along Jim’s length, and it’s all Jim can do to stop himself from crying out. He presses a hand against his mouth, screwing his eyes shut and winding his other hand through Spock’s hair.

Without the sight of Spock on his knees to keep him distracted, Jim concentrates on the way Spock sucks and swallows around him, taking him down to his root without so much as a hint of discomfort. He’s obviously damn well practiced in this, and Jim feels a very strange, very out-of-place fire of jealousy at the thought.

Pushing it from his mind in case Spock might feel that, too, he closes his eyes and encourages Spock’s mouth with weak tugs at his hair, tiny thrusts of his hips that Spock stills with a hard hand on Jim’s thigh. He’s overwhelmed by the wet heat of Spock’s mouth, the vibration of Spock’s small groans while Jim lets out harsh little breaths and whimpers, muffled against the back of his hand.

Spock pulls off him for a moment, just long enough to lick a long stripe from the base of Jim’s cock to the tip and back again. Then he’s back, sucking at Jim’s head and sinking down, one hard swallow making Jim’s hips jerk.

“Spock,” he whispers, voice rough. Spock lifts his eyes to Jim’s. His pupils are so wide they seem to eclipse his entire eye. He’s dark and dangerous and far too much for Jim’s flimsy remaining control. “Spock, I’m — I’m —“ His hand tightens in Spock’s hair, a warning, but Spock —

Spock pulls off immediately, and Jim groans so loud it undoubtedly reaches to either end of the corridor. But the worry that someone may have heard it doesn’t even cross Jim’s mind right now. Not with Spock getting to his feet, leaving Jim’s wet cock hard and throbbing between them. Spock’s going to leave him unfulfilled again. Spock’s going to make him fight for this again. How could he have been such an idiot?

“You bastard ,” Jim says, “you absolute bastard, I can’t believe I trusted —“

But then Spock plasters himself against Jim, shoving him hard into the door once again, his lips taking Jim’s in a searing kiss. Jim’s eyes fall shut in relief as Spock’s hand returns once again to his cock. “Oh thank god,” Jim groans into Spock’s mouth as Spock lifts his skirt and lines Jim’s prick up with his own, holding both in his strong grip. Spock is already dripping wet, slick with precum.

Jim’s hands in Spock’s hair clench into dangerously tight fists, his fingertips already going numb.

“Together,” Spock whispers, voice raw from his abused throat. Jim, beyond words, lets out a tight groan, but Spock muffles his voice with his mouth on Jim’s, wet breaths making Jim lightheaded and overheated and so deliciously limp as Spock’s strong hand ekes out every last push of pleasure he can.

“Sp — Spock —“ Jim warns against Spock’s lips, unable to actually form the words, but somehow he knows Spock knows he’s close. And somehow he knows that Spock is feeling it with him, riding that wave with him. It’s that static again, that spark of energy between them, not just in Spock’s hands but everywhere, a psychic connection Jim feels twisting into his nerves. Spock drops his head to Jim’s shoulder, gasping against him, while Jim tilts his face against Spock’s ear so Spock can hear every harsh breath.

“Yes,” Jim whispers. “yes, yes, yes,” over and over again as the pleasure builds, mounts, reaches its peak and — finally — crashes over him. He drops his head and bites Spock’s shoulder to stop himself crying out, bucking into Spock’s fist as they both cum over Spock’s hand. Spock pins him to the door, their breathless chests rising and falling against each other.  

Jim's whole body goes slack with pleasure. Not just from orgasm, but from the movement, the closeness, that high he can only get through sex.

Yes, this was much better than masturbating, but far more dangerous, too.

“Fuck,” he whispers as he releases Spock’s hair, running his hands down Spock’s neck to his chest. “Fuck.” It’s as much a sigh of pleasure as it is a sigh of shame.

But it’s out of his system now, he thinks as Spock draws away. It’s out of his system , and he tries to believe that even as their eyes meet and Jim sees his own desire mirrored in Spock’s gaze. They're even now, on equal footing. And if power is so damn important to Vulcans then this is where Jim should leave it.

“Satisfied?” Spock asks, wiping the corner of his lips with his thumb. Jim, still a little limp, leans his head back against the door.

“Clearly,” he says.

Spock’s little smile gleams in the dim light and they stare at each other for a moment, something passing between them.

“So,” Jim finally manages to say, bending to tug his pants back up his legs as if his whole body isn’t still tingling. “Does this mean I have power over you now?”

That smile widens. “Clearly,” Spock replies in kind, echoing Jim’s answer.

Jim feels himself smiling now. Not a smirk, nothing challenging. Just a smile — something genuine and likely a little dazed. When it doesn’t look like Jim will respond, Spock comes forward slightly, holding Jim against the door in the shadow.

His hands climb up Jim’s bare chest, and Jim considers the satisfied look in his eyes. “How much can you feel?” Jim asks. “When you touch me, I mean.”

Spock takes in a little breath, pressing warm against him as his hands reach Jim’s neck, thumbs massaging tiny circles near his throat. “Enough,” Spock says. “I cannot hear your thoughts in words, not without a mind meld, but I can feel your intentions, desires.”

Jim smiles. “Not the most useful skill in this situation,” he says. “It doesn’t take a telepath to figure out what I was thinking about.”

“No,” Spock concedes, “but I can feel the things you don’t wish to express.”

Jim recalls his earlier, irrational flare of jealousy, and wonders if that’s what Spock is referring to. God that would be embarrassing. “Oh?” he asks.

Spock’s lips quirk. “For instance,” he says, “I know you wish to invite me into your room, to invite me to stay tonight, but you will not.”

Jim leans back slightly, eyes narrowed. “And do you know why?” he asks, because there’s no point denying that the thought has not only crossed his mind, but taken up residence there.

“Because you still wish to believe that you can resist temptation,” Spock says. “Vulcans have no such concept. We bow to temptation — kneel for it.” Jim huffs a laugh, glad when Spock’s smile widens. “But you,” Spock continues, a hand reaching Jim’s cheek. “You think resisting makes you stronger.”

“And doesn’t it?” Jim asks, distracted by Spock’s fingertips grazing against Jim’s skin in places that seem to spark intently under his touch.

“Perhaps,” Spock says, “but at what cost?”

Jim lets out a bark of a laugh, planting his hands on Spock’s chest and shoving Spock away. “I’m going to bed,” he announces, and at Spock’s knowing look he holds up a finger. “Alone,” he adds.

Seemingly resigned to the decision, Spock gives him a small, respectful nod. “Very well,” he replies, backing away. “Then I will see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow I’m not going anywhere near you without an escort.”

“I look forward to witnessing the effort,” Spock shoots back, a laugh rumbling under the words.

Shooing Spock away, Jim tries to suppress his own laugh. “Good night, Spock,” he says pointedly.

Spock gives a short bow, almost a mocking one. “Good night, Prince James.”

With that, Spock turns away, making his way down the hall.

Jim watches his back retreating for a moment, just a moment, before turning back to his room. His legs are shaky with the aftereffects of a damn good cum, and the horrible, irresponsible side of him already regrets sending Spock away.

But the negotiations will last a while longer, yet. And though of course Jim does plan to resist any further advances on Spock’s part, he’s starting to recognize that his plans don’t always turn out the way he hopes, so he might as well prepare for multiple outcomes.

Such preparation of course ends up involving rather detailed visualization. All night he finds himself imagining those strong hands gripping his hips, that thick cock inside him. And, too, he imagines the game . Spock holding him down, hissing a challenge into Jim’s ear, a challenge Jim will succumb to gladly, all the while knowing Spock feels the strength in him. He gets off twice more that night, and hardly gets a wink of sleep. And while the fantasy is infinitely safer than the reality, he admits it’s not nearly as satisfying.

 


 

The next morning, Jim walks with only a little trepidation into the open-air dining room with his family, their three highest ranking advisors trailing behind. The Vulcans are already there, per custom. The Vulcans’ most powerful clan leaders, T’Poa, T’Reas and Savvet, have already seated themselves, flanking Sarek and Spock, who have taken the seats of honor at the far end of the table.

They look regal against the backdrop of the desert sky, with thin white curtains behind them waving lazily in a barely-there breeze. The sky has only just begun to turn blue at its edges, though it never holds the same hue as Earth, and the orange glow highlights the green tint of the Vulcans’ skin. Jim does his best not to meet Spock’s eyes.

As yesterday, Jim joins his family at the near end of the table, ten cushions away from Spock — not that he’s counting. The Terrans, Jim included, sink gracelessly into their low seats, and Jim doesn’t miss the looks of amusement on their Vulcan hosts’ faces.

It’s a silent wave of Sarek’s hand that starts the meal, and Jim — though he can’t claim to be exactly hungry — digs into his plate of shredded meat and flat bread just to have something to do with his hands. He hears his father speaking to one of the clan leaders somewhere on the edge of his consciousness, but his eyes, with no further occupation, lift without his permission. They settle on Spock, because of course they must.

And Spock is already looking at him, because of course he is. While Jim doesn’t feel his own expression change as Spock smiles at him, he wonders if what happened between them is obvious to anyone who may notice their eye contact. It’s sure as hell obvious to Jim. In the few seconds he holds Spock's gaze, he sees every moment they’ve shared together flashing through his mind as if in fast-forward, and — more pressing — he sees the Spock of last night's fantasies, the purposive look, the challenge in the gleam of his eyes. But this Spock is real and tangible and ready to reenact any one of those fantasies the moment Jim asks. And, somehow, he sees that Spock will wait for him to ask.

Vulcans are not patient; Vulcans are not quiet. They’re pure passion, pure will, pure fire.

But Spock will wait for him to ask.

He isn’t sure if it’s telepathic or instinctive, and he isn’t sure if he cares. The caution he brought with him to this planet, this breakfast, seems to have left him entirely. And he wonders if that might be obvious, too.

Jim isn’t sure his self-control will hold past the first course, but as he forces himself to look away from Spock’s eyes, he decides that he doesn't want it to.

Doing his best to at least pretend nothing is amiss, Jim forces himself to strike up a conversation with one of his family’s advisors. He expresses an interest in the day’s proceedings, and overall starts the day on a professional, diplomatic note. Vulcan breakfasts seem to last forever — with five courses and a constant bustle of servants, hovering about and refilling glasses of water and the juice of some sour fruit Jim can’t stand — but he tries to converse his way through it, his mind admittedly elsewhere.

And, moments after the tables are cleared and everyone stands to make their way back into the palace at large to prepare for the day’s talks, Jim catches Spock's eye again. It’s a subtle look across the room, between bodies moving past Jim on their way into the hallway. In the midst of the movement, Spock stands still against that orange sky with his skirt blowing in the breeze like those curtains. And however it was Jim could read Spock’s intentions in his eyes earlier, Jim knows Spock can now read him .

So the Vulcans depart following the humans, carrying on conversations of their own, and Spock comes up to meet Jim, the last two beings in the room.

Wordlessly, Spock holds out an arm, inviting Jim through the doorway, and Jim takes that offer, following the trail of people into the palace. Neither of them speak as they walk slowly forward, as the distance grows between them and both groups of dignitaries.

When Jim is sure even the Vulcans can’t overhear them from here, he glances to Spock beside him.

“Anywhere you and I can have a private chat?” he asks. It feels strange to speak the words aloud, as he feels so transparent that Spock could probably read his thoughts without touch.

Spock's responding grin looks devilish.

No one will notice they are gone until they don’t know where to find them.

 

Mere minutes later, Spock’s hand is around Jim’s wrist, leading them through the door of what looks to be a narrow servants’ passage. It’s lampless, dark, and the tight walls force them close as the door closes behind them. Jim can feel the muffled heat of Spock's body pressed up against him, and he doesn't balk or pull away when Spock's hands come to his chest, curling into his coat.

“We have to be in the negotiation room soon,” Jim says, but it is less protest than reminder. He finds his own hands already on Spock's hips, tugging him in as Spock's breath ghosts over his face. His eyes are adjusting to the dark, and he can see the tips of Spock's teeth as he smiles. The gleam of his eyes.

“I do not care where we have to be,” Spock replies. His hands are roaming down Jim’s body now, finding his hips and the sensitive dip of muscles by his groin. “Our planets may debate for weeks, but it is our alliance that holds my interest.”

“Alliance?” Jim asks with a little laugh, and he gathers up a handful of Spock’s chiton, his knuckles grazing the bare plane of Spock’s thigh. “Not so fast. Believe it or not, I think we could do with a bit more negotiation.”

Spock lets out a huff. “Terrans always want to talk ,” he complains quietly, and Jim pinches his thigh, hoping Spock can feel his smile.

“I never said we had to talk,” Jim says, tugging Spock against him. “I’m just saying, you still have to convince me.”

“Convince you?” Spock asks, voice dangerously low. In the stone passage, only the deepest tones of it echo. “Of what?”

“I thought about you all night,” Jim whispers, leaning in against Spock’s ear. “And you have 15 minutes to prove that you can do a better job of this than my hand.”

Something rumbles in Spock's chest, delight and arousal and power all in one sound, and soon his face is buried in Jim's neck, his hands clawing open Jim's slacks.

It isn’t long before Jim finds himself licking up Spock’s neck, Spock’s hand working their dicks together between them, Spock’s teeth grazing the rounded curve of Jim’s ear as they buck against each other and muffle wet moans against each other’s skin.

And, from that moment on, Jim is lost.

That night before dinner, Spock leads him into the stairwell of one of the palace’s lesser used towers and presses Jim against the wall again the moment the door closes behind them. Spock’s hand is down his pants as Spock ruts against Jim’s thigh, and they share desperate breaths, forcing themselves quiet so their voices don’t echo. Jim breathes against Spock’s ear, “you think you’ve got power over me; prove it,” and Spock delivers without a word of complaint, forcing Jim so boneless with pleasure that he has to wrap his arms over Spock’s shoulders to keep himself standing as he shudders into Spock’s hand. Spock doesn’t even chase his own release after that, just holds Jim through the afterglow and retreats with a self-satisfied smirk.

Then as the days wear on, it’s the garden again during another one of the Vulcans’ blessedly loud feasts, a supply closet off the kitchen, and even the negotiation room itself after everyone has left for their afternoon break, where Jim lays back on that table and holds Spock’s head between his legs and Spock sucks him until Jim lets out a cry that echoes of the ceiling. They’re nearly caught that time, when a servant pokes her head in as if to investigate the sound, but all she sees is the dorli kahr-lan of Vulcan sitting at the negotiation table with the prince of Terra, seemingly engaged in conversation. Jim is just thankful he has his back turned to her, as his face is still flushed, his shirt and slacks open. One look at him would make it clear what exactly he and Spock were just up to.

They visit the marketplace once more in what Jim at first considers a platonic outing, spending some time browsing booths and watching Vulcan dancers, discussing Vulcan culture as is expected of two dignitaries — a discussion Jim actually enjoys. But inevitably Jim leans up to whisper a suggestion in Spock’s ear and they seclude themselves in the shadow of an empty alley, fucking into each other’s hands. They can be loud here, their gasps, cries, challenges and concessions overwhelmed by the sound of the busy market. It’s the only place they can be loud. And if anyone sees or hears them, Spock assures Jim with reverent little whispers against his skin that no one will say a word. It’s self-serving to believe him, but Jim does anyway.

Days, they go on like this — professional, calm and composed as their families discuss trade agreements and their planets’ resources. Then the moment they’re alone they’re all over each other, insatiable, and somehow never patient enough to make it to a bedroom, never even patient enough to get undressed. Jim wants it that way, though. At least at first. To invite Spock into his bedroom would mean to pass a point of no return, to cross a line of intimacy. To invite Spock into his bedroom would be to legitimize something that should be hidden, that should be quick and shameful and messy. To invite Spock into his bedroom would be to invite Spock to take his time.

But by the afternoon of the seventh day, during what was meant to be a short break in negotiations, Jim realizes rather suddenly that he wants Spock to take his time. Because if Spock can do this to him in small stretches of mere minutes, Jim can’t imagine what he’d do with the freedom of an entire night.

 


 

They’re tucked together in the back-most corner of the library now, Jim breathing in the scent of old parchment as he tilts his forehead against the honeycomb shelves housing old Vulcan scrolls. Spock is kneeling for him again, his face buried between the cheeks of Jim’s ass where his rough tongue teases Jim’s hole. He tugs Jim’s cock while he sucks and licks into him, and Jim doesn’t think he’s ever been so hard in his life. He gasps encouragement as quietly as he can as he grips the shelf tight, his forehead pressed hard against his arm. That tongue keeps probing him, curling inside him but not nearly deep enough to satisfy, and soon Jim’s gasping breaths take on another tone. “Fuck me,” he whispers, shoving back onto Spock’s mouth. “Please, fuck me. I know you’re wet enough you could fuck me right here, god please—“

But Spock doesn’t seem to hear him, continuing to lick and suck at Jim’s hole and jack off Jim’s cock with single-minded determination. Of course, it doesn’t take terribly long.

Jim cums hard, splattering the shelf, biting his sleeve to stop from groaning. The next moment, Spock stands, wraps Jim in his arms from behind, and ruts against his backside until he’s letting out a muffled moan against Jim’s shoulder, his spend dripping down Jim’s thighs.

“Spock, please,” Jim gasps, shoving back against him again, “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?” Spock asks, breathless, and Jim laughs something quiet and desperate.

“I give up,” Jim says. “You win. I want you to fuck me. I submit or whatever, just — when are you going to fuck me?”

“You act as if I haven't offered,” Spock says. “You know I have been ready to claim you since the moment we met. I have promised to. You must tell me when.”

“Tonight,” Jim says faster than he can even think the word. Though making a decision in this haze of fading pleasure may not be such a good idea, he's sick of trying to act on his higher impulses when Spock is content to behave like an animal in heat. Maybe Jim deserves to let go the last of his control. Maybe it was inevitable that he would.

“Tonight,” Spock whispers into Jim’s ear. “I will come to you tonight.” Jim melts against him, relief and afterglow making his muscles putty.

“You’d damn well better,” Jim sighs, allowing Spock’s hands to climb his chest, holding him close.

“You will let me in this time?” Spock asks, amusement in his voice clear as day. Jim smiles, tilting his head to look at Spock over his shoulder.

“I think it’s a little late to pretend I’m any good at resisting temptation.”

Spock returns Jim’s smile and backs away so Jim can turn around. Jim’s still limp, but he does turn, leaning heavily against the bookcase. “I’m glad to hear it,” Spock says. “It is not a strong suit of mine, either.”

Jim drops his head back against the shelves. “Obviously not,” he says, and Spock chuckles.

Spock runs his hands down Jim’s sides, and Jim hums softly at the contact, the warm and new familiarity of Spock’s hands. But the way Spock touches him feels … less familiar. Kneeling, Spock strokes Jim’s trembling thighs softly, and Jim looks down at him, confused. There's no way Spock is planning to get Jim off again. No way he can . But there he is on his knees all the same.

“What are you doing?” Jim asks. In answer, Spock takes hold of the slacks pooled around Jim's ankles, and he taps Jim's leg, prompting him to widen his stance. Jim watches, nearly transfixed, as Spock pulls Jim's slacks up to his waist, and refastens the buckle. He even pats the fastening gently, a seemingly unconscious gesture.

“There,” Spock says on a quiet breath, standing and moving close once again, pressing Jim up against the bookshelf. “You should still have time to return to your rooms and clean up.” His hand comes to Jim’s cheek, and he leans in for a kiss.

Jim returns it, however numbly, his mind laser-focused on the trails of heat left by Spock’s hands up his thighs. The gesture was so needlessly sweet. Intimate, even. And Jim can't recall that intimacy in what they've done before.

But it doesn’t matter how often Spock claims power over him, how often Jim concedes it, how often Spock pretends to be in control. It’s moments like this that remind Jim: Neither of them mean a word of it, not really. It’s a game. And Jim feels he’s finally learned the rules, or, rather, that he and Spock have made up their own.

As they press languidly against each other’s lips, Jim hears shuffling, footsteps, the crinkle of paper from just a few shelves away. He pushes Spock back just enough to free his lips.

“Tonight, then?” he asks quietly. Through the contact of their skin he thinks, impossibly, that he can feel Spock’s delight.

“Tonight,” Spock says, sinking back in and taking Jim's lips. Like he can't resist the quiet romance of a kiss any more than Jim can resist the frantic desperation of sex.

The afternoon is wearing now into evening. Tonight isn’t so far away. Jim regains his breath in Spock’s arms, and sends up a silent prayer that the afternoon’s negotiations end swiftly.

 


 

“You’re sure?” Queen Winona asks flatly, and Jim can tell both she and King George are disappointed. They sit straight as rods beside Jim and their advisors around the Terran side of the table, their brows knit in obvious concern. Of course they’re upset.

After only a week of fractured negotiation, Sarek has made his position quite clear.

“There will be no formal alliance,” he says again, his posture straight and immovable as a mountain. “However, the discussed trade agreements will stand. We will even agree—” he takes a breath, as if the decision pains him — “to sign a formal treaty of peace. This is as much as I am willing to offer. I understand you hoped that I would devote more time to this decision, but I will not be swayed. Vulcans are stronger on our own. We are warriors. To invite you to our side would be to show weakness to the rebels, and we have no interest in attempting to broker peace with them as you claim we must. You should take our formal peace with you to be a great honor.”

The Terran monarchs exchange a look, and Jim’s gaze shoots to Spock. Unlike his father, Spock looks almost as disappointed as the Terrans, his brows tight and his lips fixed in a contemplative scowl. For once, he’s not looking at Jim at all.

“I see,” George finally says, his voice heavy. Winona takes his hand.

“We respect your independence,” she says, clearly more willing to say so than her husband. “And we appreciate your hospitality. Though we haven’t received everything we came for, I feel as though the friendship between our planets has become much stronger.”

“As do I,” Sarek says.

A moment of silence settles over the table, and Jim glances around, wondering exactly what this means. Of course, diplomatically he knows what it means, and he’s not wholly surprised. Vulcans are known for their independence. It’s the reason their history is littered with rebellions and revolutions.

But he doesn't know what this means for him . Is this it? Are they just going to leave?

“Sa-te'kru Sarek,” Jim says in a flash of decision. “With all due respect, I think if you give us more time, we can come to an agreement. A formal alliance doesn’t have to be a show of weakness. Isn’t there strength in numbers?”

“There is strength in strength,” Sarek responds, his brows tightening. “We are strong without Terra’s aid.”

“But —“

“James,” George snaps, “the sa-te'kru has given us his time and consideration, and he has given us his decision.”

“And you’re just giving up,” Jim snaps, tossing his hand in the direction of their Vulcan counterparts, recognizing too late that he’s ignoring every bit of etiquette training he’s ever received. “If you want to prove that Terrans are as weak as they think we are, then this is how you do it.”

George shakes his head, “My apologies, Sa-te'kru Sarek,” he says pointedly. “My son is …” he pauses. It seems he can’t quite come up with a word.

“He is determined,” Spock puts in, and Jim’s eyes snap to him at once. “Vulcans value determination. Father, I believe Prince James has a point. We should —”

“Prince James is determined,” Sarek says loudly, overriding his son. “And he is also wrong. No amount of discussion will change my mind, and I tire of these proceedings.” He stands abruptly. “I request that the Terran delegation depart.”

The table follows him to his feet, and Jim feels something like desperation making his heart pound.

“Of course,” George says, “we will not overstay our welcome. If your decision is made —”

“It is.”

George pauses. “Then we will have our servants collect our things.”

“You are welcome here,” Spock says quickly, “If you wish to stay one more night.” Sarek shoots Spock a look.

“It is not your place,” he snaps, and Spock stiffens.

Outside, a ruddy sunset has painted the world orange. It is nearly nightfall, but not entirely. They could use the late hour as an excuse to stay, but it would be a flimsy one, and Jim doubts the delegation wants to risk inciting Sarek’s anger. The time of day won’t matter once they reach their starship and warp toward home anyway. And Jim may be the only one among them who even wants to stay, after Sarek’s decision. He’s certainly the only one with an appointment tonight.

“It is quite alright,” George says. “We will be gone before the night is out.”

Jim’s heart sinks, some kind of irrational despair gripping his chest as he meets Spock’s eyes. He should be disappointed that the alliance of the two most powerful planets in the quadrant has been smothered before it had a chance to live. But instead his mind is reeling with the realization that Spock won’t come to him tonight. That the whole Terran delegation will be leaving immediately, taking Jim with them.

It’s probably for the best, but it scares Jim how violently his heart opposes it.

 


 

Less than an hour later, a few Vulcan servants have carried Jim’s bags out the door to their waiting shuttle, and Jim is left alone in his bedchamber, staring out over the city of Shi’khar below the palace. The red sun glows through his window, gilding the whole polished surface of the room, but everything inside just feels a little dark. Even the white sheets and pillows in their large divot in the floor cast long, red shadows, making his bed look like a desert landscape at sunset. Jim can hardly bring himself to look at it.

It’s stupid, isn’t it? To be upset? It was just sex. Hell, it wasn’t even sex . It was a week of rushed handjobs and one incredibly enticing mouth and a promise murmured into his ear, and it shouldn’t have even happened in the first place. There’s no potential here for anything more than what he and Spock already shared.

Except that there is. Because Jim has felt it in every spark of contact between their skin, has heard it in Spock’s voice when he delivered his challenging, arrogant lines as if scripted, undercut by something softening each time they came together. And he has felt it in Spock’s smile as they wandered the marketplace, as their eyes met across the table at breakfast or across the crowded garden of a feast. Whether or not either of them wants to admit it, they became close over the past week.

Probably too close.

Preparing himself to leave, Jim takes a long deep breath, then turns away from the view and toward the door. But he finds the doorway blocked — Spock’s now-familiar figure draped in his white chiton, staring at Jim as if he’s been there a while.

“Spock,” Jim says as he crosses the room, “I thought you’d see us off at the shuttle.”

“I wished to see you alone first,” Spock says, moving forward. The door slides shut behind him, and they are alone. Jim wishes there was time after all for Spock to follow through on his promise.

“I’m already running late,” he protests, but he doesn’t make any move to leave. If Spock wants to fuck him right now, if Spock wants to shove him down into that bed as a sort of parting gift to them both, then Jim will let him — the waiting shuttle be damned.

But Spock looks at him for a moment, then approaches on soft, quiet footsteps. Jim doesn’t balk as Spock reaches out a hand, cupping Jim’s cheek and drawing him in close. They press together and Spock takes Jim’s lips, almost gently. Vulcans aren't supposed to be gentle. They are supposed to be fierce, to fight for what they want.

But Spock may know he has already won the battle for Jim's affections. As Jim knows, in the midst of this quiet kiss, that somehow he has won Spock's.

Jim doesn’t quite know what to do as Spock’s free hand finds Jim’s own, pressing palm-to-palm against him. A sweet, psychic hum travels up his arm, raising goosebumps. Spock’s never touched him like this before, though the gesture seems to hold some kind of significance. He should ask what it means, but it seems the words get lost on the way to his tongue.

“Spock,” Jim whispers against Spock’s lips. And that’s all he can think to say.

“Prince James,” Spock begins, and Jim smiles, rests his forehead against Spock’s.

“You can probably call me Jim now. We’re well past formality, don’t you think?”

Spock huffs a little chuckle. “Jim,” he says then, and Jim almost shivers at the sound of his name in that deep voice. Spock, as usual, doesn't hesitate to say what's on his mind. “I want to see you again.”

Pulling away, Jim meets Spock’s eyes. He thinks, irrationally, of lacing their fingers together, aching to hold Spock’s hand. “You will,” he says, instead of acting on the impulse.

“You seem certain of that,” Spock says.

“I don’t say anything I’m not certain of,” Jim replies with a smile. Somehow, what started as a challenge now feels like an inside joke.

“Nor do I.” Spock pulls Jim back in, whispering his next words against Jim's lips. “And I am certain I will claim you someday.”

Somehow, the same promise Spock has growled into his ear and spoken through gritted teeth against his neck now feels soft, heavy, as if it means more in this moment than it ever has. As if the game has given way to truth, leaving them both a little bare.

Jim nods wordlessly, his thumb stroking Spock's cheek, and Spock must feel the desire in him, as he always does.

They kiss there in the yawning quiet of Jim's empty chamber, holding each other with a kind of tenderness that belongs to lovers, not to them. Whatever it is they are.

 


 

On the shuttle back to the Terran starship, Jim watches the capital city recede out the window until it’s just a dot, and then invisible in a sea of red. The planet’s horizon emerges once again against the dark shine of stars, and Jim turns away, staring numbly at the back of the pilot’s head.

“You behaved entirely inappropriately,” George tells him, sitting straight in the seat at Jim’s side.

Jim sighs. “Trust me, I know.”

“I understand you’re disappointed,” George continues, “but it was an ambitious goal to form an alliance with Vulcan only 30 years after the end of the war. We will re-evaluate our plans.”

Jim lets out a frustrated breath. “It would be easier if Spock were sa-te'kru,” he voices suddenly, a thought he didn’t even know he had until now. “He’s more open than his father. More —“ he pauses, stopping himself from saying anything else.

Beside him, George nods. “We weren't as successful as we had hoped, but I am glad you thought to spend so much time with Dorli Kahr-lan Spock.”

Jim’s eyes snap to him. “Really?” Somehow he doubts George would say that if he knew what he’d been doing in the Vulcan prince’s company the whole time.

George gives him a small, confused look. “Of course,” he says. “That friendship may be of use to us in the future. Spock may not be sa-te'kru, but he could influence Sarek someday. If he thinks well of any one of us, it can only work in our favor.”

Jim swallows, and he swears he can still feel Spock’s lips against his own, Spock’s palm against his palm. Does Spock think well of him? He must, to have said goodbye the way he did. Somehow, the thought eases a little bit of the unfounded heartache Jim’s feeling.

“Docking,” their pilot says from the front of the shuttle, and Jim takes one last look out the window, one last look at the red planet below. Then, the steel of their starship obscures his view, and his heart sinks.

Chapter Text

Interlude: Five Years

 

I.

Sarek carries himself like a beast set to pounce as he strides the length of the wide room to the wall of hanging weapons, his footsteps soundless on the woven mat of the floor. Spock follows … less enthusiastically.

Taking a lirpa from the selection, Sarek leaves an empty space on the wall, and many options for Spock to choose from.

Having not yet decided how best to counter his father’s anger, which weapon he might use, Spock waits for Sarek to turn around. When he does, his eyes are hard, biting, and Spock recognizes he may be lucky that Sarek has not lunged at him already.

“Your weapon, Spock,” Sarek says icily, gesturing to the wall.

When Spock takes a moment to respond, when he does not immediately advance, Sarek pounds the heavy end of the lirpa on the ground, letting out a growl of frustration. “Has the Terran made you weak? Would you rather we talk like humans to solve this conflict?”

“No,” Spock says, fist clenching at his side. His chest feels tight. Everything feels tight. This challenge did not surprise him, but he wishes Sarek would have waited. The Terrans left only hours ago, and he still doesn’t know how to feel, still doesn’t understand why his mind keeps grasping for someone who is no longer within its reach. But all the same he advances on the wall and grabs an ahn’woon, a strap of leather weighted at both ends. Holding it in his hands, testing its weights, he turns, and Sarek gives him a nod of respect — if not approval.

They do not need to speak to start the fight. They know each other well, and have settled many arguments like this, ever since Spock was a child. They each make a move at the same time — Sarek lunging with the blade of the lirpa as Spock ducks to the side, swinging the weight of his ahn’woon and knocking the lirpa’s pole. The blow takes Sarek off balance, but he recovers quickly, wheeling around and sinking to a knee, twirling the lirpa above his head to knock at Spock with the blunt end.

It hits Spock square in the chest, and he stumbles out of his father’s reach. Righting himself, he swings the ahn’woon in a circle at his side to gain momentum. His eyes are on the clench and shift of Sarek’s muscles, and he waits for any clue to his next move.

“You have been reckless,” Sarek breathes, twisting to his feet and lunging at Spock again. Spock steps to the side and hurls the ahn’woon, twisting it ‘round the weapon in his father’s hand and jerking it toward him. Sarek doesn’t release his grip, but comes stumbling against Spock’s body.

“I am aware,” Spock nearly snarls, shoving his father away and tugging his own weapon back into his hands. He steps back and they begin to circle each other. “You object to my interest in Terra’s prince.”

Sarek growls, sliding forward on his knees and trying to sweep Spock’s legs out from under him, but Spock jumps easily. He is younger than his father, and a better fighter, if Sarek would ever admit to it.

“And do you know why?” Sarek says, dodging Spock’s swipe at his legs with the weight of his weapon.

“No,” Spock says, staying out of the lirpa’s reach. “I am free to take whomever I wish, should they have me. Prince James was eager to have me, and eager to be taken.” He smiles, noting the fury in Sarek’s eyes. Spock knows Sarek would not be this upset if Spock had not been so public with his affections. Sarek may not even have known if the palace hadn’t been full of loose lips, nosey servants eager for favor. But Spock had been so distracted by attraction, so reluctant to consider Sarek’s opinion, or to consider any consequences. Not that anything could have stopped him from pursuing that fiery, mercurial prince — except James himself.

Sarek rushes forward, blade down as if to take out Spock’s legs, but Spock ducks and rolls out of the way, landing on his knees and sweeping the ahn’woon at Sarek’s ankles. Sarek doesn’t see the swipe in time, and he falls, the lirpa landing just out of his reach.

Their eyes meet as both scramble for the weapon. Spock manages to step on the wide blade just as Sarek grips its handle.

“You have not learned from my mistakes,” Sarek snarls, lifting the lirpa to toss Spock off balance and rising again to his feet, weapon in-hand. But Spock swings the ahn’whoon before Sarek can orient himself, and it wraps twice around Sarek’s neck before the weight hits him hard in the back of the head.

Spock wraps his end of the ahn’woon around his hand, approaching and yanking Sarek down to his knees. The lirpa falls from Sarek’s grasp, his fingers flying to his throat as his mouth opens wide, gasping for breath.

“Your mistakes are not my own,” Spock says. He places a foot on Sarek’s chest, shoving him back. Sarek struggles with the tight coil of leather biting into his skin, and Spock stands over him, victorious — though he feels little pride. “You know quite well that Prince James and myself cannot produce a child we do not want.”

Sarek slaps the floor, yielding, and Spock’s shoulders relax. The relief of his win slaking his anger, he removes his foot from Sarek’s chest and releases the tension around Sarek’s throat. As Spock steps back, Sarek yanks the strap from his neck. It takes him a moment to sit up, to speak. “It is not a child I fear,” Sarek says breathlessly, steadying himself on his hand. “He — he will weaken you, as your mother weakened me. Terrans will only ever weaken us.” Spock opens his mouth to speak, to protest, but Sarek holds up a hand. “But you have won this fight, and I cannot stop you from doing what you will.”

Spock nods, leaning down to help his father to his feet. Shakily, Sarek stands, but he does not release Spock’s hand right away. Instead, he holds it in a tight grip, staring into Spock’s eyes. He has lost the fight, but he has not yet heard what he wants to hear, it seems.

“I will not love him, Father,” Spock promises, though he should know better than to lie with his father’s hand in his own.

Sarek pulls away sneering, tossing his hand as if to shake off Spock’s touch. “You will not?” he asks angrily, but his countenance softens as he meets Spock’s eyes once again. A silence settles between them for a moment. “My son,” he continues, more gently than before. “I fear there is a piece of you that already does.”

And if Spock shares that fear, he will not say so aloud. He drops his weapon to the floor with a loud thunk . “Come,” he says, holding out a hand and taking his father’s shoulder. “We will leave this behind us.”

Because all conflicts are settled through strength, and Spock has proven his own. To Sarek, at least. If not to himself. Prince James — Jim — will not weaken him. But Spock may miss him. Spock may miss the power he holds over Jim.

And Spock will not consider the power Jim holds over him .

 

II.

Spock kneels in the sand, hand flat on the ground as a sigh heaves his chest. The sun beats down on his shoulders, and he clenches his fingers into the grainy soil. His commander, T’Pring, steps up beside him, her bare feet red with dust. He can’t quite bring himself to look at her.

“Dorli Kahr-lan,” she says, “there is nothing here.” Spock rises, fists at his sides.

“I have eyes, Ot-lan T’Pring,” he snaps, turning to her. His whole unit of warriors seems to shrink back, though none would dare take a step away. None would dare show weakness to their dorli kahr-lan. T’Pring least of all. She doesn’t budge, staring straight into his eyes.

“The base should be in this location,” she says. “Intelligence reports —”

“Can be wrong,” Spock finishes for her, and he turns back to the wide, empty desert, the very place he was told his brother’s base would surely lie. It was the most promising lead they’d had in years. “We will return to Shi’kahr and you will bring me the operative who gave us this location.”

“Yes, Dorli Kahr-lan,” she says, and turns on her heel. She waves a hand to the rest of his soldiers, his ask’er, and they follow her back to the ship idly hovering a little way’s away. Spock, however, remains where he is for a moment, staring out over the desert. His brother is here somewhere — somewhere out in the great nothing. And someday he will find him.

He cannot help thinking, in moments like this, how helpful it may be to have another army at his disposal. But if he resents his father for rebuking Terra’s alliance last year, he will not say so. He is not the rebel son, after all.

 

III.

The pale back under Spock’s hand trembles, and Spock curls his fingers into the skin, drawing green blood from that perfect canvas. Face buried in the blankets, the man beneath him — Stevek, one of Spock’s warriors — groans, and Spock thrusts into him harder, rather liking the sounds he’s making. It was hard-won, getting Stevek on his knees. He is a fighter.

“Dorli Kahr-lan,” Stevek gasps, hands gripping the sheets. “I have wanted this — wanted you —”

“I know,” Spock growls, folding over him, a hand running from the man’s back to his neck, curling into his fair hair — a rare trait in a Vulcan from this region. Spock is fond of men with fair hair, and he so seldom finds them. “Do not speak,” he growls. The Vulcan language tumbling from his lovers’ lips only serves to remind him who he’s bedding. He does not like to be reminded.

Stevek swallows any response, and soon his unwelcome words fade into moans of pleasure, gasps and whimpers that could belong to anyone. They could belong to someone Spock wants.

The people he has brought to his bed these last three years are not stupid. They feel Spock’s thoughts, his emotions, through every point of contact between their skin. And should they meld with Spock they will see, too. They are stand-ins, mannequins, and they could be anyone.

Anyone but the one Spock wants.

He had promised his father three years ago he would not love the Terran Prince. And now, even with the distraction of another’s body begging for him, he cannot stop thinking about the victory he never claimed. The victory Jim never claimed over him. Three years, yet Spock’s blood burns for his human near-lover as fiercely as it did when he first laid eyes on him. His mind has never stopped reaching for Jim's own, for the promise Spock felt in the energy under Jim's skin. His mind has never stopped reaching for the connection it was denied.

But for now, Stevek will do. And though Stevek can feel Spock’s thoughts, he cums crying out at that alone — the knowledge that he is enough.

 

IV.

Spock sits in front of the map on the wide screen, watching dotted lines trace their way near Terran space. They seem to be growing in number, those lines. Eight Klingon ships flitting around the Terran border, yet never crossing it. There were only five last month. He has not had direct contact with the Terran royal family since their visit four years ago, but in moments like this he considers sending them a message. It would do well for them to know the threat at their borders.

“I may bring this information to the Terrans,” Spock says over his shoulder, and his father comes up behind him, staring at the map himself as its blue light flickers over both of their faces. Their command center lies empty, aside from them. Sarek is always the first and last at work in this search for Sybok’s base, but it seems he has only now realized the reason Spock has stayed behind tonight.

“Terra may monitor its own skies,” Sarek says with clear exasperation, pressing a button on the console to turn the map off. It disappears, leaving a blank black screen. “You are distracted from our own fight.” Spock turns, brows knit. Sarek often accuses him of distraction anymore.

“I would be aware of Terra’s fight,” he says. “As would any wise ruler.”

Sarek straightens. “A wise ruler would not lie about his intentions. You do not care about their impending war .”

Spock doesn’t much care for the fact that his father has always been able to see through him, but he doesn’t respond, doesn’t want to admit to an emotion as fragile as worry. “It has been four years,” Sarek says, sounding almost tired. “Have you not yet left behind the Terran Prince?”

Spock would tell Sarek the truth, if he did not expect another accusation of weakness. No matter that Spock may do what he likes after winning their fight all those years ago, he is still not free of his father’s criticism. “Terra is the only planet in this quadrant we can count as a friend,” he says instead.

“And do you believe Terra monitors our rebellion with such intensity?”

Spock stands, faces his father. “I imagine they must,” he says.

Sarek does not accept the challenge in Spock’s eyes, and will not accept it unless Spock gives it voice. This argument is not enough to draw weapons over, though Spock sometimes wants to. Sarek lays a hand on Spock’s shoulder, meeting his eyes with a hard look as the hum of his determination passes through their skin. “Terra is inconsequential to us,” Sarek says. “Our focus must be on our own ongoing battle. You would do well to push them from your mind.”

“Why?”

Sarek’s eyes sadden, and his energy shifts. Spock can feel it where they touch. The pity lights a fire of rage in Spock's gut. “Because I do not believe Prince James holds your memory as tightly as you hold his. Humans do not love as we do.”

Sarek has made this mistake many times throughout Spock’s life, believing that Amanda could not have loved him, though Spock knows the truth. He felt his mother’s thoughts before she left for the final time all those years ago. His small hand pressed to her face, his child mind reached for hers, and he knew. She was only leaving, only vowing never to return, because she loved them too much.

Sarek knows this. He must know it, having been connected to her as he was. But Spock thinks it must be his own way of protecting himself, maintaining his strength.

“I do not expect Prince James to love me,” Spock snaps. “But you must stop comparing every human to my mother.”

Sarek glances around the room as if another set of ears may be within reach, but they are alone, and the secret of Spock’s birth will remain just that. Sarek’s hand tightens painfully on Spock’s shoulder. “Your mother,” he hisses, “was the very best of humanity. And she left in spite of our bond. In spite of her own child. I will compare every human to her. If she is capable of inflicting such pain, a lesser human could do much worse.”

Drawing away, Spock shakes off his father’s touch, but not before he allows Sarek to feel his disgust. “Your mistake,” Spock growls, “did not lie in loving Amanda. It was believing her incapable of fault. Jim — Prince James — is not a ‘lesser human.’ He is human, as she is, and he will make his own mistakes. I do not believe they will be the same as hers.”

Sarek shakes his head, turning back to the console and its dead screen. It’s as if he’s envisioning the map of Terran space, envisioning the woman he loves leading a life he will never be a part of again. “A ‘wise ruler’ learns from history,” he says quietly. “If you are ever to be wise, you must learn from mine.”

And Spock does not have the energy to argue, especially when he knows it to be true. He has learned from Sarek’s history, and learned from his own. He has learned that love may be a weakness, but he will not allow anything to weaken him.

 

V.

Alarms blare out from the palace tower before the shield above the city flickers, and every Vulcan in the Shi’kahr street turns their eyes upward, including Spock. He stops in his tracks, listening to the city siren echo as it reverberates through his feet.

A siege. As expected. With Sybok’s forces gaining ground, a test of the city’s shields was inevitable eventually. The morning has just crested over the desert mountains, and Spock has not yet wandered far from the palace. Turning, he makes his way quickly back down the main avenue, jogging past citizens tugging their children through the streets, past stoic-faced elders whose years have worn away their fear of war, past youths whose expressions border on worry, though they would not express such weakness openly in a time of conflict.

And he keeps the palace in his sights, nursing a resentment that has grown in him over five years. He will gather his ask’er, and he will fight Sybok off, as he has done at battle fronts all over the planet. Five years after the rebel insurgence may have ended with Terra’s aid. Five years he could have worked with Terra’s soldiers to hunt his brother down. Five years he could have led Vulcan to victory alongside the greatest planetary power in the quadrant aside from their own.

But Sarek has never recognized the Terrans’ strength, and so has forced Spock to rely on his own.

It is no matter. Spock is strong, and though it will be slow, he will kill Sybok eventually. And he will not think of what could have been, or what might still be.

This is Sybok’s rebellion, but Spock can admit he blames his father for it.

Chapter Text

The shuttle shakes, and Jim glances behind him toward his small complement of six guards — the only people he brought with him from the starship currently in orbit. They seem unfazed, but of course they would be. This is hardly a war zone.

But it is also a far cry from the peace Jim saw when he visited Shi’kahr five years ago. Far below, black dots of people and glittering beams of phaser fire move in haphazard zig-zags along the backdrop of the red ground. It’s not a massive clashing of armies, but Jim can tell even from this height that the rebel forces seem to equally number the warriors protecting the city. At least for now. Soon, Jim is sure, Sarek will gather reinforcements from elsewhere on the planet, and drive the rebels back. As he has done from other cities, other outposts. Though this is the first time Sarek has been called on to protect his own capital in well over a decade.

The shuttle jerks, and Jim grabs his armrest, glancing up to the pilot in concern. She’s moving quickly, lest the rebels on the ground outside the city decide to take a shot. Earth’s agents don’t know what kind of artillery Sybok’s forces have, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Well, somewhat safe. It’s safe, for instance, to send Earth’s second-born son, since an unfortunate accident befalling him wouldn't destroy Earth's monarchy. It’s safe to send a small delegation of diplomats in case Sarek is ready to take them up on their offer of helping him forge peace with Sybok. It’s safe to come down to the planet in small parties, to send small groups of Terran guards. They are undoubtedly treading the line of ‘safety.’

Especially considering Sarek doesn’t know they are coming.

Jim has already questioned his parents’ wisdom in sending a diplomatic party unannounced while Shi’kahr is under siege, but they assured him that it’s a ‘light’ siege, more a test of the city’s defenses than anything, and it’s a ‘perfect opportunity’ to try once more to offer their resources. Now that Sarek’s fight has come closer to home, now that he has fought a fruitless battle against his son for five long years, he might be willing to accept the help he obviously needs.

Whether or not Jim agrees with the idea, he admits as the shuttle slips through the air toward the palace that there’s a warm hum of anticipation in him at the prospect of returning to Vulcan after all these years, though he knows nothing will be quite the same, and the circumstances will be far from ideal. Glancing out his window, Jim looks down, sees the glittering dome of a shield over the city open just wide enough to allow them through. The second the shield closes behind them, the shuttle begins a sinking descent.

They approach the palace grounds, and Jim tries to check his anticipation, to calm the pound of his heart that keeps distracting him from the matters at hand. It’s ridiculous for him to feel this way after so long, but feelings seldom follow any line of logic.

He hasn’t avoided thoughts of Spock over the last five years. When they’ve come, and they certainly have come, he has allowed himself to feel whatever happens to arise. Depending on the memory, it’s usually a mix of recalled delight, lingering frustration, reflective guilt and inconvenient arousal. But the thoughts have become less frequent until recently, until it became clear that if anyone were to return to Vulcan to resume talks of an alliance, it would be Jim. They’ve been grooming him for years to take this role, since that first diplomatic trip, and Jim wants to prove he’s ready for it — to become the ambassador to Vulcan that Earth desperately needs.

He can’t afford to get distracted by Spock again. Not now that he’s older, and hopefully wiser. But all that is assuming Spock would even want to get distracted by him . With the capital city under attack, Spock’s father’s rule and life threatened, fulfilling his five-year-old promise probably isn’t high on Spock’s mind.

Nor should it be on Jim’s.

He’s here to offer Earth’s resources in Sarek’s fight, to urge the sa-te'kru to make peace with his firstborn son. He doesn’t need to cling to memories a strange, short-lived affair, but if he can fulfill his objectives in Spock’s company, with the weight of Spock’s dark eyes on him, so much the better. That’s all he really wants.

The shuttle lands hard, jolting Jim out of his thoughts, and the doors slide open immediately. As Jim and his guards stand from their seats, a Vulcan warrior sticks her head through the opening. Jim recognizes her after a moment as T’Pring, Spock’s commander. Far from the ceremonial, elegant chiton the warriors wore last time Jim saw them, T’Pring is outfitted in a tight, woven armor bodysuit, twin phaser rifles strapped to her back, with one hand-held phaser in her fist. This is not an honor guard, but a warrior outfitted for battle. The difference is striking.

“You will hurry,” she snaps, nodding out the door.

“What’s going on?” Jim’s guard commander Hikaru Sulu asks from behind him.

“They’re at the city shields, testing them with sonic cannons,” T’Pring says. “We doubt they can disrupt the modulation, but Dorli Kahr-lan Spock says not to risk the life of a foreign diplomat.” The way she says the words smacks of distaste, but Jim doesn’t take it personally. He knows full-well how Vulcans feel about ‘peacemakers.’

So as T’Pring ducks back out into the open air, Jim follows, beckoning his soldiers along. They all jog out into the desert heat; it’s late in the day already, the sky blood-red and obscured by wind kicking up dust. But Jim doesn’t really take the time to glance around. Instead, he runs with T’Pring and his guards toward the wide palace doors.

When they make it through the entryway into the foyer, a complement of warriors greets them inside, their dusty feet leaving streaks on the once-polished floor. All two-dozen-or-so are outfitted like T’Pring, clearly having just come from battle — or preparing themselves to return to it.

As the last of the Terran guards enters, one warrior taps in a code at the doors where a glittering shield springs into place before disappearing from sight.

Jim glances around for a familiar face, seeing none at first. “Where is Sa-te'kru Sarek?” he asks T’Pring. She opens her mouth to speak, but it turns out Jim doesn’t need an answer. At that moment, an imposing figure shoves through the ranks, and they part like the red sea for their leader.

Sarek, wearing armor and weapons like his warriors, does not look pleased.

“Prince James,” he greets, though it sounds more like an accusation. “What are you doing here?”

Jim holds up his hands as Sulu moves a bit closer to him, obviously wary of Sarek’s aggressive posture. “We’re here to help,” Jim says, but it’s all he manages to get out before Sarek practically growls at him.

“’Help!’” he echoes derisively. “You have brought your own soldiers, your own peacemakers .” He spits at the ground. “We do not want peace, nor do we want your ‘help.’ You must leave immediately.”

“Father,” a voice calls out, and Jim startles at the sound. He’d recognize that voice anywhere, five-years removed from its murmur or not.

Spock jogs down the steps of a nearby stairwell, clearly harried. He’s wearing the same armor as his fellow warriors, the same armor as his father. Vulcan royalty have always been fighters.

Little about him has changed in five years. His hair, long as ever, is now tied in a knot at the nape of his neck, and a red triangle of war paint streaks the shaved side of his head, likely marking his rank. He wears no other ornamentation, unless one might count the phasers strapped to his waist.

Jim knows, consciously, that Spock is a warrior as much as a prince — his title means ‘high general’ after all — But he admits the idea of Spock going out to fight on the front lines is terrifying. All the more reason to broker peace.

Sarek turns fully to Spock. “What, Dorli Kahr-lan?”

“Prince James has risked much to offer his assistance. Even if we will not accept this offer, he is now under our protection. We must allow him to stay until we have pushed the rebels back.”

“You cannot tell me what we must do,” Sarek says. “Unless those rebels put my head on a pike, I am the sa-te'kru and you are not.”

“Allyship aside,” Spock asserts, standing taller, “you have expressed to me that you value our friendship with Terra. If we do not shelter Terra’s second son, I fear that friendship may end, and we may refuel tensions we have buried. Are you so narrow-minded as to encourage war against our friends as we fight a war against our brothers?”

Sarek holds his chin and shoulders high, his chest puffed out, but Spock doesn’t back down.

Jim takes a breath and forces himself to step forward, though it feels as though he’s stepping between two hissing cats. “Sa-te'kru Sarek, Dorli Kahr-lan Spock, we haven’t come here to cause you more trouble. It wasn’t our intention to offend you, but to offer our resources —”

“The same resources I have once refused,” Sarek snaps. “Terra’s persistence does it no favor.”

“However,” Spock says pointedly, “we do not need to accept these resources in order to do what is right. My soldiers are confident they can force the rebels back in mere days. Our numbers, our defenses, vastly outweigh their own. It is as though they’re not even trying.” This last bit is said almost proudly.

“I do not have time for your arrogance,” Sarek scoffs.

“It is truth , not arrogance, but say what you will. We will not have to host Prince James for very long.”

Sarek turns away with fists clenching at his sides. His eyes snap from Jim to Spock, to the small guard of Terran soldiers surrounding Jim. “You may stay,” he says, finally. “Tell your starship to fly elsewhere — it is not safe in our skies. Your soldiers may not meddle in our affairs, nor may your peacemakers.” He says the word with the same vitriol as before, but thankfully neglects to spit.

“You have my word,” Jim says, though Sarek may see the disappointment in his eyes. He was here to offer help, and it doesn’t sit well with him that this help has been rejected. He finds himself thinking once again that if Spock were sa-te'kru, they’d have solved this rebel problem five years ago, and, on the matter of his family’s goals, every Terran ship would have a Vulcan cloaking device installed by now.

Sarek nods. “Very well. Spock, resume your duties. I will find servants to prepare rooms for Prince James and his complement.”

Spock takes in a breath. “Yes, Sa-te'kru,” he says, then makes his way through the assembled warriors. “Ot-lan T’Pring,” he says to his commander. She stands at attention, her hawkish eyes narrowed in concentration. “You and your ask’er must stay here. Protect the sa-te'kru and keep the palace secure. I will bring Shi’kahr’s warriors to the city border.”

He moves past Jim toward the doors, never once meeting Jim’s eyes.

Of course, he probably has plenty else on his mind. The fact he took so much time to defend Jim’s presence is more than Jim could have asked for. Jim swallows, turns back to Sarek, and sees the sa-te'kru’s eyes on him, narrowed in suspicion.

“Thank you, Sa-te'kru Sarek,” he says, refusing to pay attention to the sound of the door sliding open, then closed behind him. If it’s too dangerous for Jim’s shuttle to fly back to its ship, what does that mean for Spock in the thick of battle?

“It is a gesture made in friendship, not alliance,” Sarek says, as if Jim needs the clarification.

“Then I thank you in friendship,” Jim says. “And I’ll stay out of your way.” It pains him to do so. How many people might die in this conflict who wouldn’t have otherwise? How much senseless violence are the Vulcans willing to endure for the sake of appearing strong? They conceded to peace with Terra. Can’t they concede to peace within their own factions?

But it was Terra that extended the hand first, as they always do. No Vulcan would bend their pride like that. And, too, it was Amanda Grayson’s persistence that finally convinced them. Maybe Jim needs to take a leaf out of her book, live on Vulcan for an entire year and get close to the royal family.

Though a little voice in the back of his head reminds him that he likely got too close to the royal family last time he was here.

Sarek turns away from him. “I must monitor the battle,” he snaps. “Servants will show you to your room, and my warriors will show your guards to our barracks.” He pauses, his strong shoulders tight. “And you will leave the moment the rebels give up their fruitless siege.”

“Yes, Sa-te'kru,” Jim says with a bow, already dreading the call he’s going to have to make to the starship and — worse — to the king and queen. “I won’t get comfortable.”

Sarek scoffs and walks toward one of the staircases, not once looking back.

 


 

The sky darkens slowly, that deep red that heralds an oncoming violet, the breeze beginning to carry the scent of the Vulcan flora that blooms around sunset. But it will be hours before darkness falls and the rebels fall back for the night. This insight comes from Sulu, who has spent the last few hours getting the lay of the land from Vulcan warriors in the barracks.

It has been like this the last few days, Sulu tells him. The rebels attack at day, regroup at night, and repeat. The Vulcans’ days have begun to fit a pattern.

As Jim stands with Sulu outside one of the low-roofed barracks buildings, he stares down their rows as the city shields flicker in a persistent rhythm above them. Another, more insistent pattern fills the air.

Whoosh, fwoom — the sound of sonic cannons firing, then reverberating against the shields in the hopes of disrupting the modulation — swish, boom — artillery shells flying toward them, then exploding against thin air, proof that the sonic canons have failed, and the shields remain intact.

Whoosh, fwoom, swish, boom .

Whoosh, fwoom, swish, boom .

A constant threat, constantly contained.

Sulu’s leaning against the wall in the shadow cast by the roof, with his arms crossed over his chest. Jim, however, stands in the sunlight, watching Vulcan warriors a few buildings away rushing in and out of the gates, some clearly injured. They’ve been using the barracks closest to the gates as medical centers, and have already barred Jim and his human guards from helping.

Thankfully, the building in which the human soldiers have been housed isn’t too far away, so they can at least observe. Jim can hear the warriors speaking rapidly in Vulcan to each other, and from this distance he can just see their faces — can ensure Spock is not among the injured.

Jim had grown restless in his bedroom, far away from the fight with a window overlooking the wrong side of the city to observe the worst of it. Though it took some convincing of the guards to let him leave the defensible palace, he would rather be here than anywhere else.

Whoosh, fwoom, swish, boom.

“You already told Ambassador Uhura to get the starship out of Vulcan space, right, Your Highness?” Sulu asks suddenly, presumably dwelling on the power of those artillery shells, though after hours of this he no longer flinches at the sound.

“Yeah,” Jim says absently. “But I gave her the honor of telling the King and Queen that Sarek didn’t appreciate our visit.” He gives Sulu a smile he doesn’t really feel, distracted as he is by the parade of injuries. Jim wishes the Vulcans could hide behind their shields and wait for the rebels to tire, to give up, but he supposes if the ask’er didn’t rush out to meet every threat, they’d hardly be Vulcan.

“That’s smart,” Sulu says, pushing off from the wall to join Jim in the light. “Their royal majesties won’t be happy to hear it.”

“Well, they can relax,” Jim says. “I’m not leaving Vulcan without talking to Sarek again. That was their problem — they gave up too fast. I’ve got a job and I’m going to do it.”

Sulu chuckles. “At least you have something to do,” he says. “They won’t let us help with the injured, or help with the fight. We’re basically grounded.”

Shrugging, Jim runs his hand through his hair. “Think of it as paid leave,” he says, though it doesn’t come out with any of the humor he attempted to inject.

Whoosh, fwoom, swish, boom.

Whoosh, fwoom, swish, boom.

The sound, the pattern, fills the silence between them, and Jim continues to watch their not-quite-allies returning from their fight, rushing back out, taking shifts and healing injuries as swiftly as they can.

It isn’t long before the gates slide open again, and a small group of warriors staggers through. Jim feels his spine straightening at once. Without intending it, he takes an instinctive step forward.

“Your Highness?” Sulu asks, moving to stand with him. But Jim doesn’t quite hear him over the whoosh, fwoom, swish, boom — and the sound of his beating heart, which may pound louder even than that.

Spock, supporting one of his warriors with an arm around her waist, staggers toward the door to the medical station, his hair flying from its bun in the breeze, a line of green blood on his cheek standing out against his olive skin like the war paint on the side of his head. But it’s not war paint, and Jim’s lungs lose their breath at the realization that Spock has been injured.

Thankfully, it seems to be his only injury, and a minor one. The warrior he’s mostly dragging isn’t so lucky. Her hand clutches her stomach, where green spills over her fingers, and she looks as though she’s dazed with pain.

Jim swallows, eyes following Spock’s movement, watching him pass the injured warrior to one of the medics. Then, as if sensing Jim’s gaze, Spock turns and meets his eyes across their short distance.

He doesn’t approach, doesn’t say Jim’s name, or even nod in recognition. He just stands there staring at Jim for all of a moment before turning away, extending a hand to another bleeding Vulcan as he shuffles them inside.

Sound returns to Jim’s senses. “Is that the Dorli Kahr-lan?” Sulu asks, his accent over the Vulcan title as imperfect as Jim’s was all those years ago.

“Yes,” Jim says, embarrassed that his voice comes out a croak. But he’s never seen Spock injured before, never seen him fight. Never seen him as a warrior.

And he’s worried about him.

Whoosh, fwoom, swish, boom.

Whoosh, fwoom, swish, boom.

Spock turns away, moves back toward the gate, toward the fight.

Whoosh, fwoom, swish, boom.

Whoosh, fwoom, swish —

Everyone in sight goes still before any of them quite know why, and ice seems to spread through Jim’s heart as he waits for that final explosion, the shell bursting against the shields, the proof that the sonic cannons were unable to break through.

But it doesn’t come.

Then, in the silence broken only by the far-off shouts of battle, one of the injured warriors screams something in Vulcan, raising a finger to point toward the sky. The sound seems to jog all of them out of a reverie. Around Jim, movement happens all at once, the Vulcans rushing away from the barracks fence as one group — like a tide — Sulu rushing to Jim’s side, the very air seeming to shift around them.

Some warriors take up their phasers and sprint toward the gates. Some duck into the barracks, presumably to take cover. It is only then, watching them disappear, that Jim dares to look up.

Over the desert, where lines of heat radiate upwards and blur the world into hazy hues of orange and red, an artillery shell sails toward them, just reaching the end of its arch.

Horror freezing his limbs, Jim watches that missile fall toward the ground only yards away, trying to calculate in the space of moments how far the impact might affect them. But it’s just the desert, just the sand, no one in danger, right?

Just before the shell hits the ground, a body slams into Jim from the side and Jim falls hard against the stone. It's almost as though his own impact causes the explosion, shattering the sound around him, the air vibrating with its fallout. A spatter of sand smacks into Jim’s face like a thousand tiny bee stings, and the body above him shifts. Jim opens his eyes to see Sulu, laying on top of him as if his small frame could really save Jim from a Vulcan artillery shell.

In the echoing, ringing cacophony that follows Jim hears the sound of distant cheering.

The rebels cheering.

“Sulu —” Jim begins, but Sulu seems to understand, shoving himself to his feet and holding out a hand for Jim to take. Once Jim hoists himself up and steadies himself on unsteady legs, he looks back out over the desert, where the dust and fire of the explosion still rains down on the sand.

Past the flames, the dark figures in the distance begin to run forward, some dragging a massive machine — the one that must have shot that shell. They’re coming closer, and the barracks will soon be in their range.

Sound rises around him, warriors yelling over each other, footfalls on the stone rushing toward the barracks’ gates. The buildings around Jim empty — not just his own soldiers spilling into the open air, but every Vulcan warrior who had been injured and laid down to rest — every Vulcan warrior who could move. And Jim hears Spock’s voice reaching above them all, shouting something that he can understand.

“Dvun'uh!”

Move.

Above them, the remains of the shield’s dome flicker around the single section that has fallen. But it is a crucial section, a stretch of hundreds of yards between the barracks and the palace. And even as a hundred Vulcan warriors rush out the gate to stem the oncoming rebel tide, Jim’s mind breaks into problem-solving mode.

“Commander Sulu,” Jim barks, turning to Sulu and recognizing that his other guards are already standing at attention, ready. “Give me one of your phasers.” Sulu unclips a phaser from his belt and hands it over without argument. “We can’t let them take the palace,” Jim says. “Go help the warriors. Phasers on stun.”

He gestures toward the gate with his own phaser, and his six guards — maybe too few to help — run.

Jim looks down to his own weapon, calibrating it. He doesn’t consider that even his guards are wearing defensive vests, and that the Vulcans are all outfitted in armor. He doesn’t consider that his tunic is nothing but linen and brocade. He doesn’t consider that he might die protecting a society that refused to take their help when offered, when that help could have prevented this mess.

Instead, he makes sure the weapon is set, and lifts his eyes, ready to follow his warriors into the fray.

But before he takes a step, he sees Spock running toward him. “What are you doing?” Spock shouts as he approaches. The first words he has said directly to Jim in five years.

Jim doesn’t think about it.

“Fighting,” Jim says, gesturing out to the desert with his phaser. Beyond the weapon’s barrel, he can see the rebels have moved through the downed section of shields, and Shi’kahr’s warriors rush out to meet them. It looks as though they will clash right between the barracks and the palace — a defensible fort on its own, but with paths leading easily down to the vulnerable city below the cliff.

“You are unarmored,” Spock says, slowing to a stop in front of him. “You will stay here.”

“And where are you going?” Jim asks.

“I must remodulate this section of shields,” he says, “before the rebel reinforcements arrive. There is no time. Tell me you will stay.”

“Where are the modulators?” Jim asks, and when Spock meets his eyes Jim knows instantly that Spock understands what Jim is suggesting.

You’re a fighter , Jim’s trying to tell him. I’m not, but I can do this.

The decision happens in a flash, a single glint in Spock’s eyes. “A hatch in the ground, there,” Spock says, pointing to the other end of the barracks. “Find the modulator that has been disrupted and remodulate that section only .”

He doesn’t ask if Jim knows how. He doesn’t question whether or not he can read enough Vulcan to figure it out. He just pulls the phaser rifle from his back and holds Jim’s eyes just long enough for Jim to nod.

“Alright, I’ll take care of it. Get back out there.”

Spock hesitates for a half of a second, then turns back toward the gate and runs. Jim doesn’t let himself watch Spock’s back. Doesn’t let himself consider the shouts and sounds of phaser beams firing.

He can’t worry about his own guards, or Spock. He has to get the shields back. Breaking into a sprint, Jim runs toward the other end of the barracks, passing the shadows of those narrow buildings as fast as his legs can carry him, his eyes scanning the ground for a hatch.

It’s as far away from the front gate as it can be, embedded into the stone by the fence. A panel stands beside it, surrounded by Vulcan warning signs.

A sound rings out from a distance: Swish.

The artillery firing.

Practically leaping over those last few feet of distance, Jim slams his hand on the panel.  The hatch opens with a hiss as Jim — against his better judgement — looks up into the sky. Far above his head, a missile reaches the top of its arch … and begins to fall.

“Shit!” he shouts. He practically throws himself onto the ladder leading down the hatch and climbs down as quickly as he can. The door above begins to slide closed, but it’s too slow, too slow too slow—

He feels the vibration before he hears the explosion, the ladder under his grip shaking so hard he has to wrap his arm around the rung just to stay on it. And then the sound — a crash so loud it’s silent , everything gone but the ringing in Jim’s ears that might be the last thing he hears.

Just as the hatch hisses shut, scraps of stone shoot through the opening and Jim ducks his head, feeling something smack his forehead hard as the rest of the debris rains down over his back. He redoubles his grip on the ladder, the world spinning around him as he fights against the threat of falling.

But he doesn’t have the opportunity to check on his injury, even as a drop of blood runs down his brow and soaks into the white fabric of his sleeve. He has to hurry.

Climbing down the rest of the way, Jim drops to his shaky feet and shouts “ ha'gellar ” — ‘lights’ in the Vulcan language — just as another rumble shakes the floor.

The lights buzz on to reveal a tiny stone chamber, only large enough for a body and the eight large, black boxes affixed to the walls, each flickering with lighted buttons. Narrow screens run the length of them, scrolling with Vulcan numbers. The Vulcans’ shield modulators — supposedly constantly changing frequency to rebuff the sonic cannons.

And the screen on one flashes yellow, fast as a strobe light.

He’s seen these kinds of modulators before, albeit smaller. They’re the same kind they display in Earth’s military museums, salvaged from Vulcan ships from the war. Though the outdated tech likely caused this failure in the first place, it’s a blessing for Jim.

Rushing toward the modulator that’s been compromised, Jim scans the buttons — an army of them. Luckily, he knows just enough Vulcan to figure out what most of them say, and is familiar enough with old Vulcan technology to decipher some of the symbols.

“Off,” he mutters to himself, “reset. Up. Down. R—randomize!” The word echoes against the stone chamber as he slams his fist on the button and the yellow light flashes even faster. Its numbers seem to scroll like a slot machine, before the screen begins to glow blue like its fellows.

It’s imperfect — a random frequency is not the same as constant, intentional modulation which Jim has no idea how to calibrate. But it will at least mean that the section of shields is back online, and the rebels will need to test the frequency with their sonic cannons again before breaking through. That could take hours.

Relieved, Jim slumps against one of the modulators and gingerly presses his hand to the gash on his forehead. It’s bleeding steadily now, sticky and hot as it runs down the side of his face.

But he still doesn't have time to nurse his wound. There are only eight modulators in here, and given the size of the section the rebels shot through, there are probably hundreds of rooms just like this to support the entire dome of the shield around the city.

And if there was no one in this room keeping an eye on these, who’s to say that there are sentries at the other modulators? The ones protecting the sprawling roads just outside Shi’kahr’s main core? The ones protecting the side of the palace that doesn’t have barracks full of Vulcan warriors to protect it?

He needs to find Sarek, now.

 


 

Jim hardly registers the fighting as he runs well past the fray, giving the warriors and rebels a wide berth. With the shields up again, he can tell the Shi’kahr warriors are driving the rebels back against it, and probably firing kill beams at every last one of them. As the rebels will be attempting to kill them. He can’t think about that. His own guards in the scuffle, or Spock — already injured.

Instead, he keeps his sights set on the palace and runs as fast as his lungs allow, the heat of the dying day and the thin Vulcan air making it hard to breathe. Thankfully, the barracks — what’s left of them — aren’t too far away from the palace.

He can’t think about the wreckage of those barracks, either, only thankful that the buildings that were hit had already been emptied, and thankful that he wasn’t caught in that first decimating explosion.

As he approaches the palace doors, his legs shaking, he realizes the sentries usually standing at the doors are gone — likely to join the fight. The palace shields are probably up.

He takes the steps two at a time and practically throws himself at the door, leveling a fist against it. Sure enough, the shield glitters and shimmers with the impact, and Jim groans, his shoulders falling. He glances around, frantic for any alternative entrance, but just as he considers running behind the palace and scaling the garden hedges, the shield glistens as it peels away and the door slides open.

Two Vulcan guards greet him with phasers raised, but they lower them when they see the prince of Terra, unarmed, dust-stained, sweating and injured.

“Prince James,” one says, stepping aside and nodding for the other to do so.

“Sa-te’kru — where?” Jim gasps as he pushes past them, trying not to show how hard it is to breathe, even as his vision gets pinprick-black around its edges. He rushes blindly into the empty foyer, casting around as if Sarek will be right there waiting for him.

The warriors glance at each other. “He is the control room,” one answers. “And very busy —“

“The shields,” Jim chokes out, putting a hand on his knee and crouching slightly. “Technicians?”

By the way they’re looking at him, he might as well be speaking a different language. “You need to get — get technicians to the other shield modulators,” Jim says. “Sonic cannons matched the — the frequency. Broke through.”  

They look to each other again, and Jim feels the last of his patience snap. “Where’s Sarek?” he barks, breath returning to him slowly in the cooler air of the palace.

The fair-haired guard glances up to one of the staircases leading off the foyer and opens his mouth to speak, but Jim doesn’t wait for him. He gathers his strength and makes his way toward that staircase, numb to whatever protests the guards may raise.

But before he gets more than a few feet in that direction, a figure comes barreling down the stairs, fully armored and familiar.

“Ask'ersu Stevek,” Sarek barks before he even sees Jim standing there. “The last of the rebels inside our shields has fallen. Get the ask’er to — Prince James?” Jim straightens as he meets Sarek’s eyes. “I do not have time —“

“You need to have time,” Jim snaps, stepping in front of Sarek as he tries to go past him. “You need to get technicians at — at every shield modulator hub in Shi’kahr. So they can monitor the effect of those sonic cannons. Now.”

“It was the sonic cannons?” Sarek asks. “You are certain?”

“I was there,” Jim bites back.

A beat of silence passes with Sarek’s eyes turning hard. But then, thankfully, he nods, turns to the warriors at the door. “Stevek,” he says, and the guard straightens immediately. “Do as Prince James recommends. We cannot risk another breakthrough.”

Stevek gives a short bow and runs off, passing them toward the staircase that Sarek just descended — presumably to the control room.

“Why don’t you have people there already?” Jim asks before Sarek has a chance to speak once more.

“The shields are checked and remodulated every morning,” Sarek says, eyes narrowing.

“You’re under siege!” Jim says, but adrenaline is still coursing through his system and it comes out a shout. “They should be remodulated hourly , constantly !”

Behind Jim, he can hear the door sliding open and footsteps coming through, but he doesn’t turn, doesn’t pay attention. His eyes are glued to Sarek’s and he can see Sarek’s own shields rising. “They have never broken through before,” Sarek says dangerously, the prelude to his own explosion. “Sybok has never had the capability to thoroughly test our shield modulation. We did not think —“

“You didn’t think he’d find a way to break the same shield systems you’ve been using for four decades?” Jim asks. “I saw those modulators. They’re the same you used in the Terra-Vulcan War. How could you think he wouldn’t —“

“You do not know my son,” Sarek says louder, advancing on Jim, though Jim holds his ground.  “I do. I will not stand here and allow a Terran to tell me what is best for my planet.”

That’s your problem,” Jim says. “Pride. If you’re going to beat Sybok you have to stop thinking you’re better than everyone else.”

Sarek moves forward, meeting Jim face-to-face, so close that Jim can see every wrinkle branching from his tired eyes. He’s never looked as old as he does right now. “How dare you —“

Kroykah !”

Jim can’t help it, he turns to that voice as if Spock had called him by name. Spock approaches from the doorway where a small complement of dust-streaked warriors stands, some injured but none seriously. They must have medics looking over the worst of them. Jim sees his own guards among the group — all six — and breathes a private sigh of relief.

“Do not silence me in my own palace” Sarek shouts, turning his teeth on his son now.

“It was Prince James who secured the shields after they fell,” Spock says, coming to a halt at Jim’s side as if standing with him against the tide of his father’s anger. “He risked his own life to protect this city, and moreover he is correct. Show him respect.”

Sarek scoffs. “I do not have time for this,” he says. “You defend your human more fiercely than you defend your own people.”

Shoving past Spock, Sarek approaches the warriors, all of whom stand straight, ready to receive orders. Sarek’s next words to them are in Vulcan, and Jim doesn’t have time to mentally translate them before Spock turns to him, taking Jim’s attention fully.

“You are injured,” Spock says, and he takes such a small step in Jim’s direction Jim’s not sure he hasn’t imagined it.

“Not much,” he says, lifting a hand subconsciously to his forehead, where the dust-caked blood has mostly begun to dry.

Spock’s expression tightens. “I will send a healer to your room.”

“No,” Jim says immediately. “I can take care of this. I’m sure the medics have enough on their plates.”

Spock swallows and turns back to the warriors by the door, his father’s back turned to them both. “Of course,” Spock says. There’s a pause, and just as Jim opens his mouth to fill the silence, Spock’s voice comes out a croak: “Thank you.”

Jim stutters over his thoughts. “You’re welcome,” he says. It’s the easiest response he can think of, but it isn't what he wants to say. He wants to ask if Spock is alright, but of course he is. He's Vulcan. Used to the fight. Used to the loss.

With a nod, Spock turns back to his warriors and walks off to join his father. Jim rakes his eyes over his own guards, dirty, sweat-stained but alive, and gives them a respectful, tight nod of his own.

 


 

In the window reflection, Jim can only vaguely see the outline of the cut that sliced his forehead mere hours ago. Thanks to the dermal regenerator, it will likely be gone by tomorrow. He has washed up by now, changed into something clean and comfortable — recuperating from the day’s events — but he has spent the last few hours in the same state of heartache.

Twenty-eight rebels and 15 Shi’kahr warriors died today.

Jim sighs, grateful only that the mistakes of today aren’t likely to be repeated. At least, not the mistakes regarding the shields. When last he checked, Sarek had stationed technicians and warriors at each shield hub in the city.

Sarek’s larger mistake, however — his pride — may play on endless repeat until the end of this rebellion. However it ends.

Out the window now, he can see past the empty streets of the city in the purple evening light, where inconsistent flashes of phaser fire ignite the darkness, but he can’t see the tiny black shapes of the soldiers anymore. Now it’s just a panoramic cityscape laid out under him like a chess board.

The fighting has died down, and will likely cease as soon as the rebels pull back for the night. A smart commander might strike them when they’re vulnerable, but Sarek is an honorable commander before he is a smart one, and all the Vulcans tend to respect the rules of battle. Meet in the open. On an even playing field. Test their goddamn strength against each other.

Though Jim saw him mere hours ago, he can admit he’s still worried about Spock. He should be worried about all of them. Sarek’s Shi’kahr army includes hundreds of soldiers, after all. But he keeps envisioning Spock on those front lines, too brave and too obsessed with proving his own strength to practice the kind of caution he should.

Thankfully, though, by the time the blue of evening overtakes the sunset violet of the sky, the last flash of phaser fire sparks, dies, and the world outside goes quiet. With luck, Spock made it through alright. With luck, they all did.

Though he continues to watch the dormant battlefield as night darkens, his own reflection stands in the way of the view, staring in contemplation at himself. He wonders, not for the first time, what he’s doing here. If it will be worth it. Or if he’s as bad as the Vulcans, doing the same thing, fighting the same way, over and over again until they all break.

Jim turns from the window eventually, but he doesn’t think he can sleep tonight. Rubbing his forehead (careful to avoid his healing cut), he considers taking a walk, and his feet begin to move him toward the door.

But before he takes more than a couple steps, the door chimes — a sound Jim hasn’t heard in years. With a start, Jim stops dead in his tracks, eyes wide and staring straight ahead as if the door might open on its own. For a moment, he isn’t sure he should answer it. The nerves rising in him tell him that he might know who is on the other side — or that he might hope he knows.

If he’s honest with himself, he’s been waiting for him all night. All day. Five years.

Setting his shoulders, Jim strides forward with more confidence than he feels, and presses the door's command screen.

Sure enough, when it slides open, there he is; Spock, standing in the blue light of night and the black of shadow as he did five years ago.

He’s out of his armor now, dressed once again in his formal chiton, whole and hale and healthy but for a square bandage against his cheek. Jim’s eyes are drawn to Spock’s like magnets — like instinct, like muscle memory. He wants to reach out, to rest his hand against that bandage, but after five years the touch likely won’t be welcome, and it is by far the dumbest thing Jim could do right now.

Jim swallows a hard lump in his throat and steps back. “Spock,” he manages to say, remembering his manners and beckoning Spock inside. “Come in. I'm — I’m glad you're alright.”

Spock crosses the threshold and the door slides shut, leaving them standing before each other — alone for the first time in years.

But Spock’s lips begin to curl in a small smile, and the visage of a wounded warrior fades away. Suddenly he looks familiar, as if he hasn’t aged a single day. As if all the hard focus of earlier was a mask, and this — this smiling face and dark eyes — is the real Spock. “You were surprisingly quick to let me in, this time,” he says, something gently teasing in his tone.

It takes a moment for Jim to understand what Spock means, but the memory rushes into him like a battering ram as it tends to do whenever he’s confronted with it. Spock on his knees in the hallway, half in shadow, half blue from the window’s light, his mouth —

“Well,” Jim says, flustered by the memory and determined not to show it, “a lot has changed since then.”

Spock simply lets out a small laugh and moves past Jim into the room at large. Jim doesn’t follow right away, but watches Spock take a seat on one of the cushions by the window, as naturally as if they had planned this meeting.

“Perhaps not so much has changed as you might believe,” Spock says finally. He glances over his shoulder, and Jim — realizing his feet felt fit to root themselves in place — finally moves to join him.

Below them, as Jim settles into the cushion at Spock’s side, the city shines blue and black, and Jim pretends to look out the window as his eyes find Spock’s in the glass reflection. He looks thoughtful now. Neither fierce nor gentle.

“I didn’t really expect you to come see me,” Jim says when it looks like Spock will not speak.

Spock takes a breath. “I wanted to thank you,” he says.

“You already did.”

Spock’s eyes drift past Jim’s reflection to the dark world beyond, focusing as they look out into the city. “I did not thank you for everything — for what you said to my father. Few dare to stand up to him in such a way.”

Jim huffs, something that could have been a laugh under other circumstances. “I’m sure he’s none too pleased with me,” he says. “Fine ambassador I am.”

“You are,” Spock says, and he shifts, turning to face Jim. Jim turns to him, too, but he doesn’t know how to feel about the steady weight of Spock’s eyes, somehow more intimate without the window to separate them. “And you are much more than that.”

Face reddening without his permission, Jim swallows, glancing away. “I just did what needed to be done. Just the same as you.”

“But for a people who have refused to ally with you,” Spock reminds him. “Had the shields remained down, perhaps Sarek would have realized the threat Sybok poses, asked Terra for its aid.”

“And more innocent people would die in the process,” Jim says, eyes snapping back to Spock’s as they narrow. “That’s not an option.”

You nearly died.”

Jim pauses, watches as Spock’s eyes flick up to the healing gash along his forehead. He wonders then if Spock saw the explosion at the barracks and thought Jim had been caught in it. It was a narrow miss, after all.

And, unwisely, he wonders if Spock did think he had died, even for a moment. “But I didn’t,” Jim says.

A brief silence settles, and Spock sighs, looking out the window once again. “I would very much like to speak of other things,” he says quietly.

It takes a second for the weight of those words to sink in, but when it does Jim hates himself for feeling the cool salve of relief spread through his veins. Jim meets Spock’s eyes again. “I wasn’t entirely sure this was a personal visit,” he says, gesturing between them.

“What else would it be?” Spock asks.

“I don’t know,” Jim admits, “Maybe you wanted to update a foreign diplomat on the battle. Or tell me it’s safe to leave.”

“For your sake,” Spock says carefully, “I do wish it were safe to leave. But selfishly I am pleased you must stay until the siege ends.”

With a jolt, Jim’s heart pounds against his ribs as suddenly as if he’d just been thrown into freefall. “Why?” He can’t stop himself from asking, and Spock meets the question with a little smile.

“I have thought of you frequently since our parting,” Spock says. And the guilt that has weighed on Jim’s conscience for five years, the certainty that his heartache was unfounded, unrequited and unnecessary, fades away with one, simple sentence.

“Me too,” Jim says, a reluctant smile rising to his lips. “And you’ve hardly changed at all,” though he doesn’t yet know if that’s true. Spock seems quieter than before, much more the Spock of their final parting kiss than the Spock of their first meeting.

“You have,” Spock says, and Jim straightens.

“Have I?”

Spock lets out a little laugh, a musical sound that Jim truly has missed. “Do not sound so surprised,” Spock says. “It is in the way you spoke to my father. You sounded like a diplomat.”

It’s Jim’s turn to laugh. If Spock says he sounded like a diplomat, it really means he sounded like a fighter. “I am a diplomat,” he reminds Spock. “Hopefully a better one than I was last time.”

As he looks out the window, Spock’s smile fades however slightly. Jim’s sure he wouldn’t even have noticed the shift if he weren’t so focused on the gentle, familiar curve of Spock’s lips. “You did well last time,” Spock assures him. “It took you mere hours to win the favor of the dorli kahr-lan.”

Jim feels a grin spreading over his face, and he turns to look out the window himself. “Minutes, more like, but I'm not counting.” He shouldn’t ask what falls out of his lips next, but he does. “Do I still have his favor?”

In the window reflection, he watches Spock’s eyes soften at their corners. “Clearly,” Spock says. “I am here, after all.” And though it’s a logical response, Jim finds he doesn’t know what to say to it. As they stare together into that reflection, a pause hangs heavy in the air between them.

Suddenly restless, Jim stands, feeling Spock’s gaze on him as he paces a little closer to the window. There’s so much he wants to say — so many questions he wants to ask. But he’s afraid of what might come out of his mouth if he should dare to open it again.

“Jim,” Spock says, and Jim watches Spock’s reflection rise to his own feet, approaching.

Turning around, Jim holds up a hand. “It’s been five years,” Jim reminds him, already knowing instinctively what Spock is about to say, what he’s about to propose. “This can’t happen again.”

Spock continues to come closer, and though Jim wants to drown in the familiarity of his scent and the memory of how his fingertips sparked against Jim’s skin, he tries to focus on the war paint still traced on the side of Spock’s head, the bandage on his cheek — the reminders of why they’re here and what the world looks like around them.

“It is not happening ‘again,’” Spock says quietly. “What happened between us has not ended.”

Trying desperately to slow the excited hammering of his heart, Jim moves past Spock as Spock swivels silently to keep him in sight. He has to at least try to do better, doesn’t he? For his conscience if nothing else. “I’m here as a diplomat,” Jim says. “I’m not—”

“You were here as a diplomat when you knelt for me in the garden,” Spock says, moving toward him once again as Jim takes a small step back. “You were here as a diplomat when I took your cock in my mouth just outside this door. You were here as a diplomat when I promised you I would come to you.”

“Things have changed,” Jim says, though there’s nothing different about the way his body responds on instinct to that look in Spock’s eyes.

“They have.” Spock takes another step forward, urging Jim back. “For one, we are behind closed doors this time.”
“If all we’ve learned in five years is discretion…” Jim says quietly, and he shakes his head, breaking Spock’s eye contact. “I’m just trying to be …”

“Stronger?” Spock asks.

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Are you?”

Jim startles, meeting Spock’s eyes again. “Am I what?”

“Stronger. Than you were five years ago,” Spock says. On the next step, Jim feels his heel hit the edge of the floor, the stair leading down to the bed. He stops in his tracks, swallowing as Spock gets closer. “Or will you give in, as you always do?”

God, that tone is familiar. That teasing, playful arrogance that sets Jim’s blood on fire. It’s their game, the thrill of its memory flowing through Jim as easy as his breath.

Spock’s hand comes to Jim’s cheek, touching him for the first time in years, the spark in his skin reminding Jim that Spock knows Jim wants this. But he will not do anything until Jim tells him he can.

“Hey,” Jim says, and he has to stop himself from leaning into the hand cupping his cheek. “I’m not the one coming to your room in the middle of the night. If either of us is giving into anything, it’s you.” The challenge feels familiar on his lips, and it makes warmth pool in his gut at the reminder of their back-and-forth. The fight that has never been a fight, because both concede every time.

“I will not deny that you have power over me,” Spock says, edging closer. He takes a long, slow breath, and something shifts behind his eyes. “Allow me to prove I still have power over you, too.” There’s a sincerity in his words that unsettles Jim, a deviation from the rules. He shouldn’t say such things seriously, let alone with the kind of weight that makes Jim’s heart ache for them both.

They share a silence that fills the space of a heartbeat. “You do,” Jim says quietly, because he knows Spock can already feel it in him by that buzz between their skin. “But this is a bad idea. It was a bad idea five years ago, and it’s worse now. You should be focusing on the rebellion, your responsibility —”

“I have focused on the rebellion every day since it began,” Spock says lowly. “Your return only reminds me why I fight. I would have taken you the moment I saw you if I were able. I would have laid you on the floor in the foyer and fucked you in front of my own warriors if I hadn’t been called to the battle. And if you want me I will take you right now.”

Jim’s lungs lose their breath; arousal spreads through him like acid, eats away at his common sense, burning him from the inside out.

“I fulfilled my responsibility today,” Spock continues. “And will fulfill it tomorrow. Tonight, I wish to fulfill a promise.”

Spock’s other hand falls to Jim’s waist, pulling Jim against him. They still fit together like this. Like Spock was meant to hold him close, like the last five years have deprived them both of whatever magnetic force always seems to bring them back to each other.

“This wasn’t what I planned, coming here,” Jim says with the last of his resolve. “I need you to know that. If you had forgotten, or...” But he’s arrested by the look in Spock’s eyes. Something warmly affectionate, hotly covetous, deeply intentional.

It’s that look again — the one that drew Jim to Spock in the first place. But there’s something deeper in his eyes, too, a desperation that Jim can almost feel in him, because it’s the same desperation he feels.

“I know,” Spock assures him.

Silence settles for a moment, only the sound of their breath and the blood rushing through Jim’s ears. He knows better this time. He truly does. But Spock is right. This never really ended, did it? It is not a new mistake he’s making, but the same he made when he followed Spock behind those hedges five years ago.

The best mistake of his life. He feels his lips pulling themselves into a smile — reluctant, relieved, expressing a thousand things he shouldn’t even feel. “Is this the part where you tell me to kneel?” he asks.

“No,” Spock says, leaning in close. And though Jim has hardly been celibate these last five years, he feels as though his lips have been waiting to feel Spock's breath, as though his body has been waiting for the spark of Spock's touch. “Tonight I hope we may both end up on our knees.”

Though Spock can’t hear the details of Jim’s thoughts, not through simple touch, Jim wonders if Spock hears the two words that rise up to eclipse everything else in his head.

Fuck it.

His hands find fistfuls of Spock’s hair and Jim pulls him in the rest of the way, taking Spock’s lips as viciously as that first kiss they shared. Spock’s hands come around Jim’s back, his body shoved flush against Jim’s own, his tongue plunging into Jim’s mouth. And Jim opens for him with a muffled groan, holding Spock in place.

Jim tilts his head into the kiss, whimpering when Spock runs his hands up Jim’s back, under his shirt, fingers splaying against his skin and sparking with a psychic energy that makes Jim shudder.

Spock breaks the kiss, but before Jim can object with more than a sharp breath, Spock’s lips fasten at the base of his jaw under his ear. Knees nearly giving out with the sudden spike of pleasure, Jim forgets why he was resisting, why he’d resist to any of this. Why he would waste one moment pretending they weren’t destined to end up here eventually.

With a flash of resolve, Jim steps down into the bed and pulls Spock roughly with him.  They topple onto the cushions together, the impact nearly knocking the breath from Jim’s lungs, though he hardly cares. Urgency taking over, Jim drags Spock against him, on top of him, with two hands still tangled in his hair. Spock rocks their hips together as he curls his fingers into Jim’s shirt, dangerously close to rending the fabric.

“Off,” Spock demands, and Jim shoves Spock back so he can sit up, yanking the shirt over his head. Once he tosses it off to the side, he takes Spock by the back of the neck and pulls him in for another kiss, slipping the chiton off Spock’s shoulder and gripping that strong arm.

Spock settles into his lap, bracketing his legs on either side of Jim’s body as Jim’s free hand curls once again into his hair. Spock’s hands are roaming up Jim’s bare chest, touching him as hungrily, as desperately, as reverently as he’s kissing him.

Pulling off Spock’s lips, Jim yanks Spock’s head back and ducks to bite at his neck, relishing the whine of pleasure Spock releases into his ear. Encouraged, he licks and nips down to Spock’s collarbone, bringing a hand to Spock’s chest to wind his fingers through those enticing curls of hair. He finds Spock’s nipple and pinches it hard, far too pleased with the pleasured sounds coming from Spock’s mouth to pull away.

But Spock pulls away first, taking Jim by the shoulders and shoving him back onto the mattress. Grinding down against him, Spock steadies himself on Jim’s chest, hips rolling. His hard cock, bare under his skirt, brushes up against the bulge in Jim’s slacks, and Jim clenches his fingers into Spock’s thighs to stop him. They’ve cum like this before, rutting against each other over their clothes, but that’s not what Jim wants now. And he can tell by the fire in Spock’s eyes that it’s not what Spock wants either.

Jim brings a hand to Spock’s and guides Spock’s fingers downward, his nerves springing to life under the static of Spock’s touch, reaching the line of Jim’s waistband.

“Off,” Jim says this time, hoping his voice leaves as little room for argument as Spock’s did. Thankfully, Spock doesn’t need any more direction than that. In a moment, he pulls open the fastening of Jim’s slacks, and Jim lifts his hips to accommodate, anxious to shed it all. For all the times they came together, they never had the chance to strip each other down, to cling naked to each other and taste every inch of bared skin. Jim wants that. He’s wanted it from the moment he first saw Spock in the red desert sun.

Spock climbs off of Jim to help him out of each leg of his pants, and Jim kicks to free himself, tossing his underwear off somewhere to the side. When he’s finally bare and Spock turns his eyes back to him, Jim reaches for him. Permission. Invitation. Plea.

When Spock moves over him once more, he’s up on his knees, too far away for Jim to grind against, too far away for the friction Jim’s craving. Jim’s about to take hold of Spock’s hips and force him close when Spock makes good on his own intentions. His hands find Jim’s sides and, in a flash of strength that makes Jim’s heart stutter, he flips Jim over onto his stomach.

Jim lands with a solid floof into the soft cushion beneath him, and turns to cast Spock an accusatory look. “Hey—”

But if he had a complaint about the position, it dies on his lips as Spock straddles his thighs, shoves his cock between Jim’s cheeks and begins to move again. “I told you,” Spock says lowly, “I want to take you on your knees.” He’s already wet from that blessed Vulcan precum, easing the way as he fucks the cleft of Jim’s ass, getting him slick. His strong hands spread Jim’s cheeks, gripping him tight.

Jim bites the inside of his cheek to stop himself begging. He doesn’t need to beg — Spock knows what he wants.

As Jim watches over his shoulder, Spock unties the skirt from his waist and tosses it somewhere to the side, leaving his cock green and erect and bare. Jim wants to suck him again, wants to feel those ridges against his tongue, but more than anything he wants that cock inside him.

“Don’t you dare make me wait this time,” he says on a breath.

Hands exploring Jim’s back, hips rolling in a steady rhythm, Spock laughs. “I believe we are both tired of waiting,” he says lowly.

The second his weight leaves Jim’s thighs, Jim lifts his hips, getting his knees under him, chest pressed to the mattress. Reaching back, he parts his cheeks like an offering.

And Spock takes it.

In a moment, two wet fingers begin to circle Jim’s hole, and Jim buries his face in the pillow, scrambling for a sheet to grab.

“God, yes,” Jim groans, voice muffled by the pillow as he shoves his hips back. “Yes.” Those fingers shove hard inside him, and Jim bites his lips against a cry. It’s intrusive, uncomfortable, but only at first. Soon, Spock’s pulling in and out, scissoring his fingers and — god — curling them. Jim’s almost forgotten how sensitive Spock’s fingers are, how delightfully they respond to pressure and heat and wet. But he’s feeling those psychic sparks inside him now and it’s making his nerves electric.

Jim squirms. “I’ve thought of this,” he says, “so many times. Fuck, Spock, I’ve gotten off so many times —“

Spock shoves his fingers hard into him, as if in retaliation. “As have I,” he says. “I have taken many men these last five years.” His free hand runs down Jim’s back. “And with each of them I have imagined taking you.”

A third finger joins the first two, and Jim looks at Spock over his shoulder once again, Spock’s cheeks and chest flushed green, his lips parted. “Makes me want to drag it out a little longer,” Jim lies, shoving back as Spock’s fingers reach deep inside him. He strokes that sensitive bundle of nerves and Jim bites back a groan, tilting his forehead into the cushions. “Fuck,” he gasps. “Do that again.”

“You are giving me orders now?” Spock asks, his tone teasing, and Jim lets out a breathy laugh. But Spock does as he is told, sending a shot of lightning through Jim’s nerves.

“We — we both know you won’t take orders from me,” Jim manages to say, as Spock pulls out his fingers, leaving Jim open and wet.

“No,” Spock says, and Jim feels him shift behind him. “Vulcans do not take orders from weak Terrans, and I will not take orders from you.” His voice is low, dangerous, and as Jim holds his breath in anticipation he feels the head of Spock’s thick cock press against his entrance. “But your desires? Those, I will satisfy without question.”

Jim’s body shudders. “Then fuck me,” he says, knowing Spock will rise to the challenge. He always has.

Spock’s fingers on Jim’s back curl, hard, pulling divots in his skin, and over his shoulder Jim watches those kiss-bruised lips smile. He swears he can feel Spock’s satisfaction with that response, the laser-hot burn of arousal. But before Jim can process the impossibility of feeling Spock’s emotions, Spock shoves into him, one hard thrust that buries him to his hilt as Jim cries out and turns his head into the mattress. Gripping the sheets, Jim focuses on the bite of his fingernails in his palm through the fabric, pushing past the initial discomfort. Spock barely gives Jim a moment to adjust before he’s pulling out, those ridges doing unspeakable things to Jim’s insides as Jim’s back curls.

“Oh,” Jim groans as the first ridge pops past his ring, “Oh, God.” With a grunt, Spock shoves forward again, slamming into him, and Jim pushes back to meet him, finally, finally, finally.

Spock sets up a rhythm, thrusting into him with grunts of effort that make Jim’s knees weak. He wishes he could see him, see that green flush on his chest and wind his fingers through that hair, but god he wouldn’t stop this for anything, not even for intimacy’s sake. Reaching down between his legs, Jim grabs himself, pulling in time to Spock’s thrusts, letting out gasps of pleasure each time Spock’s ridges drag against that sweet spot inside him. He’s stretched tight around Spock’s cock, and he can feel that throbbing, pulsing pleasure every time Spock buries himself.

“Fuck me,” Jim whispers again. “Fuck me, yes, fuck, just like that.”

With a particularly hard thrust, Spock folds over him, hand moving from Jim’s hip to Jim’s cock, where he shoves Jim’s hand out of the way and grips him tight. Jim groans open-mouthed against the blankets, taking fistfuls of sheets in both his hands.

“I will prove my strength to you,” Spock growls, picking up the pace as he tugs Jim’s cock. “I will satisfy you like no other lover could.”
And Jim’s lost in the friction, the frenzied movement, the gasping breath and the stretch and the pull and the push and the yield — and he thinks of his other lovers; everyone he’s had in the last five years. Ruth, Ben, Carol, even Gary who’d fucked him so hard Jim could hardly walk the next day and none of them had felt quite as good as this.

A hand comes to Jim’s chest and Spock pulls him up ‘til they’re both balanced on their knees, holding Jim close as he fucks into him, making Jim groan and toss his head back against Spock’s shoulder. Spock’s jerking him off harder now, hips bucking, supporting both their weight on nothing but those strong thighs. “You will think of — of no one else,” Spock growls, strained. “Not now.”

Spock slams into him, biting at his neck as Jim’s entire body clenches. He lays his weight against Spock’s chest. “And — and your other lovers — fuck—“ Jim gasps, barely getting out the words through the haze of pleasure. “Did they know you were th — thinking of me?”

The hand against Jim’s chest tightens possessively, and Jim shudders, whining in the back of his throat. “Yes,” Spock says. “Every one of them.” He releases Jim’s cock, shoving Jim back onto the bed. Jim falls, taking himself in-hand again while Spock picks up the pace. “But they had no — no claim to me. I have claimed you .”

Jim wants to protest, a part of him screaming that he belongs to no one, let alone Spock, but the part of him that’s stinging with arousal, the supernova reaction that’s churning within him, wants to be claimed, as long as he can claim Spock in turn. “You will think of no one but me,” Spock says again, and Jim obeys.

He thinks of Spock, of every encounter from their first in the garden to their last in the library. He thinks of every fantasy he’s concocted the last five years — Spock in Jim’s bed, on his hands and knees, keening with pleasure while Jim fucks him; Spock taking Jim on the tables of conference rooms during dull meetings; Spock’s lips around his cock while Jim sits in his armchair and leans back and grips Spock’s hair.

And he thinks of Spock’s weight now, as he lays over Jim again, Spock’s breath on his back, Spock’s cock hard inside him, and Spock’s precum streaking his thighs where it’s dripping.

Jim’s back arches, his body tightens like a rubber band, and he screams . The orgasm rips through him like a hurricane, decimating his control, his composure. He’s drooling onto the sheets, whispering curses and expressions of gratitude in equal measure, cumming hot over his hand as his whole body throbs in time with his rapid pulse. “Fuck,” he groans as Spock continues to fuck him, until he feels the overstimulated prickle of static through his veins. “Fuck, Spock ,” and part of him thinks he should say ‘stop’ but he doesn’t want this to end, even the agony.

But then Spock, gasping hot against Jim’s back, shudders, and Jim feels the wet heat of Spock’s release flood him as his cock pulses hard inside.

Gasping with the sensation, Jim shoves back, burying Spock fully so he can feel this — full, completely overcome and completely overdone.

Spock’s orgasm seems to last impossibly long, his cock still hard as he pulls out and shoves back in. Jim thinks at any moment he’ll roll away, but it's like he hasn't come at all, fucking Jim just as hard as before.

“Fuck,” Jim says, and he’s not sure if he knows how to speak anymore other than that word. “Fuck, Spock, p — please.”

“What do you want?” Spock asks, the words rumbling in his chest.

And Jim doesn’t know.

“More?” Spock asks, rising up on his knees. “I can give you more.” As if to emphasize, he buries himself in Jim again even as his cum drips down Jim’s thighs.

Jim manages to lift his head, turning and cracking open his eyes to the sight of Spock. He looks wild, his hair tangled from where Jim had gripped it, his pupils wide and dark as a new moon.

“More,” Jim says, even as his body protests the word. He won’t be able to cum again for a while, but if Spock can then Jim will let him. He wants Spock to take out five years of pent-up desires on him. He wants to come out of this bruised and covered in Spock’s seed and bleary-eyed. He wants to feel him.

Spock pulls out, and Jim gasps with mingled relief and loss. But Spock doesn’t leave him unfulfilled for long. In a moment, he’s got Jim’s hips again and he’s flipping him onto his back, the sheets beneath him wet from sweat and spunk and saliva.

Jim spreads his legs wide, and Spock crawls between them, rubbing his hard cock against Jim’s, softening now. “Humans,” Spock whispers, seemingly surprised. “How long?”

It takes a moment for Jim to realize — Spock’s asking him how long until he can get hard again. Spock doesn’t just want to cum himself. There’s something strangely tender in the realization.

“Half-hour, give or take,” Jim breathes, wondering why, if Vulcans are capable of multiple orgasms, Spock was ever satisfied with just one each time they came together. He supposes Spock was always building up to this, the opportunity to take his time.

Spock huffs out his nose, mumbles something dissatisfied in Vulcan that makes Jim laugh. Taking Spock by the shoulders, Jim pushes him back onto his knees. “It’s alright,” Jim says, glad when Spock allows himself to be moved. They rise together, and Jim shoves Spock back to the inviting pile of cushions, encourages him to spread his legs.

“Jim,” Spock says, leaning up on his hands as Jim crawls over him. “If it is too much —“

“Relax,” Jim says. He runs his hands up Spock’s chest, around his neck, curling into the hair at the back of his head. Rubbing his ass against Spock’s cock, he pulls Spock up and close to him, closes his eyes, and tucks his nose into Spock’s hair. “I want to ride you,” he says, and Spock’s body clenches beneath him, his hands coming to Jim’s back.

“You are certain?”

“I don’t say anything I’m not certain of.”

The chest against Jim’s own rumbles with a laugh, and Jim smiles, steeling himself. Then, he lifts himself on his knees and reaches a hand back to guide Spock’s cock back into him. His whole body clenches as he sinks down, already aching from the hard fuck, but he pushes through the pain and settles with Spock seated fully inside him.

Spock brings a hand to Jim’s face, pulling him back so they meet eyes, and Jim sees something in them, feels something in the skin under Spock’s fingertips. Intentionally, Spock’s fingers move to Jim’s temple, his cheek, the side of his nose, under his bottom lip where energy buzzes between their skin, arching between them like a tesla coil.

“What are you doing?“ Jim asks, unable to help a strange swell of nerves.

“Sharing my pleasure,” Spock says gently, and he brings his lips to Jim’s without quite  kissing him. “My mind to your mind,” he whispers. “My thoughts to your thoughts.” And Jim has no idea what to expect until it’s too late to expect anything at all, and Spock is inside him . He can feel static sparks slipping along his neurons, a presence so obviously Spock curling through his mind. It’s possessive and intense and overwhelming, consumed with lust and pleasure and ceaseless wanting , and Jim nearly goes limp with it.

“What —“ he asks, but can’t finish the thought; the single word echoes in his mind as if he’s hearing it through someone else’s ears.

Spock moves once again, encouraging Jim to ride him with little rolls of his hips, but Jim isn’t just feeling Spock inside him. He’s feeling something hot and wet encircling him, clenching around him, pulling pleasure from a prick so overstimulated he wonders how it doesn’t hurt. But Spock’s desire for him to move is reverberating inside him, a desire that Spock doesn’t need to give voice to. Jim can feel it, rippling through his own body. Giving into it, Jim rises up on his knees and sinks back down, leans his head into Spock’s hand.

“What is this?” He asks, but he doesn’t need to put it in words. Spock can feel the question in him, and responds in kind.

It’s a mind meld , Jim hears without hearing; we are one and together. And God, they are. Jim’s never felt closer to another person, not just connected but inseparable. Their bodies are one, their minds are one, and their pleasure mounts as one. Jim’s hard again, impossibly soon, and every sensation feels amplified a thousand times inside him.

He falls into a rhythm, riding Spock’s cock while his hands grip Spock’s shoulders for balance, his eyes clouding over reality as the feelings in his head take on images of their own — colors of white sheets and purple-red skies, scents of sex and herbal perfumes, sounds of a lover’s panting breath — and he doesn’t know if they’re all real or happening now or vestiges of memories he can’t remember. Every time Jim sinks down, he lets out his breath; awed, pleasured grunts and whimpers.

Like battle, Spock had said once, long ago. Sex is supposed to be like a battle. But this isn’t. Neither of them surrendered or subjugated themselves. They’re just giving each other what they want. It isn’t combat. It’s alliance — maybe it always was.

Jim presses harder against Spock’s hand, gasping half-formed words, his pleasure mounting as Spock’s cock slides in and out of him, his ridges doing double duty on every sensitive nerve. Jim manages to bring a hand to the back of Spock’s head, guiding him close.

They kiss desperately, moving together as Spock’s mind moves inside of Jim’s own. Jim feels surrounded by him, completely enveloped, and somehow he can feel that Spock is enveloped in him, too.

Jim doesn’t know whose hand it is jacking him off, Spock’s or his own. He doesn’t know whose back is aching, whose thighs are burning, or whose orgasm it is that triggers them both, but they reach a peak together, Jim’s mind whiting out in a flash of overwhelming light. Somewhere outside his consciousness he hears Spock groan, feels Spock pulsing inside him. He gets his arms around Spock’s back, gets his hooks in Spock’s mind and clings to him.

Then, he feels the desire — the reckless urge to go deeper, to plunge into Jim’s mind. Jim reaches for him, inviting him. Deeper, deeper, deeper

And Spock pulls away. He breaks the meld as if by force, leaving both of them gasping as Spock leans back on his hands. Jim, unable to stop even with the shock of separation, rides out his orgasm, his legs aching from the effort.

Jim’s breath heaves, as he tries to blink back into reality though he knows he wasn’t in Spock’s head for very long. Everything feels like a dream, colors shifting, features of Spock’s face blurring back into focus. Slowly, dazedly, he manages to lift his eyes to Spock’s — Spock, who’s still buried inside him but no longer buried in his mind. And Jim feels strangely separate from him.

“Holy shit,” Jim says, leaning his head back and closing his eyes, finally settling down in Spock’s lap and taking the weight from his legs. “Holy shit , Spock.”

Spock urges Jim to slide back, and he pulls out slowly, his cock twitching with continued interest and making Jim’s lower half throb. But even as he considers offering himself up once again — anything to satisfy — a hand comes to Jim’s neck and pulls him down, Spock lowering Jim to his chest as they lay back on the bed together.

They catch their breath there, though Jim can feel Spock’s cock still hard against his own.

“God, Spock,” Jim says, fingers curling in awe around Spock’s relentless erection. Spock jerks into his fist, clearly sensitive. “How many times can you cum in a row?”

Spock smiles against Jim’s hair, “many,” he answers.

“Vulcans,” Jim muses on a breath. “Did you know that mind meld thing would get me off, too?”

“I was not sure. But I wanted you again, and I wanted to share my pleasure with you.” His breath hitches slightly as Jim tightens his fist. “I want you still,” Spock says.

Jim lifts his head, looks into Spock’s eyes. Jim’s body is exhausted, sore, and even with a meld he doubts he could cum again soon.

But Spock can. So Jim begins to jack him off slowly, rests his free hand on the bed and lifts himself, just to look into Spock’s eyes. He feels sparks of excitement, pleasure, warmth radiating from within him — not just his own. “I can still feel you,” Jim says.

Spock’s breath is quick, his hips bucking gently into the movement of Jim’s hand. He rests a hand on Jim’s cheek, his fingers bearing that same psychic energy as when they melded, as if something inside Spock is reaching out. “I have melded with many, but this was —” Spock pauses, takes a sharp breath through his nose as Jim’s hand tightens. “This was different. It was nearly impossible to — to maintain a shallow connection.”

Jim considers this, thumbs Spock’s dripping head and smiles gently at Spock’s responding shudder. “Why can’t we go deeper?” Jim asks, voice low. “You know I wanted it.”

Bucking gently into Jim’s hand, Spock lays his head back, closes his eyes. Jim’s delighting in the sensation of touch, Spock’s slick prick, the sheets and cushions around them like a nest — and the sound, Spock’s breath getting faster, small whimpers of pleasure falling from his lips.

“In this,” Spock whispers, “and this alone, I must — show restraint.”

Spock stares up at him, an expression of hunger in his eyes. Jim likes being looked at like that. “Pity,” he says, and he can tell Spock is close now by the way his hips forget their rhythm, the way his lips part to take in breath. Jim smiles at him. “I liked the way you felt inside me.” Spock bites his lip, looking somehow vulnerable for the first time Jim has known him. “And I loved the way I felt inside you.”

“Jim,” Spock says on a breath, fingers curling against Jim’s cheek.

“Can I feel it?” Jim asks, leaning into the hand holding his face. “You don’t have to go too deep.”

Spock nods, swallows, arranges his fingers immediately. “My mind to your mind,” he gasps, eyes fluttering closed. “My thoughts to your thoughts,”

He pulls Jim into the currents and eddies of desire and fulfillment and desperation for more, into the swirls of bliss and anguish cascading through Spock’s mind, and when Spock cums with Jim’s name on his lips, Jim feels it in his mind, too, reaching out to him as Jim reaches back, but no matter how Jim pulls, Spock doesn’t go deeper. He fucks into Jim’s hand, cums like fireworks in Jim’s mind, and goes limp. When his fingers fall from the side of Jim’s face, they’re both gasping, and Spock’s head is tucked into the sheet, his thighs trembling.

Though he didn’t cum with Spock that time, Jim can still feel Spock’s afterglow, a warm hum of pleasure and relief, and the effect causes a lead-heavy weight to spread through Jim’s veins.

“Stay tonight,” Jim says quietly.

Spock's arms come around his back, and he pulls Jim down against his still-heaving chest. “I do not think I could leave if I wanted to,” Spock says slowly. “There seems to be a man on top of me.”

With a surprised laugh, Jim ducks his head under Spock’s chin and tugs at a curl of chest hair, grinning against Spock’s skin. He must have been an idiot at 27, thinking those rushed meetings in empty rooms were a better idea than this.

“I’m beginning to think I should have invited you to stay the night ages ago,” Jim says. He lifts his head to meet Spock’s smiling eyes.

“I never faulted you for it,” Spock says. “It was the game.”

The game. Resistance and relief. It was more than the things they’d say to each other, the dirty talk about power and weakness. It was Jim’s belief that he had to hold Spock at arm’s length, even when all he wanted was to bring him close. “Not sure I want to play anymore,” Jim says with a laugh. “I’m too old for games.” He lays his head on Spock’s chest once again, and Spock’s arm tightens around him.

“As am I,” Spock replies. “And in this it seems I have never cared who won.”

“That’s good,” Jim says, “because I’m pretty sure I was the winner here. You ask any other human how many telepathic orgasms they’ve had...” As Spock’s chest rumbles with a chuckle, Jim feels Spock’s simple delight slipping through him.

“I concede to your victory,” Spock says. Softly, Jim smiles, closing his eyes and losing himself in the steady comfort of Spock’s breath, finally evening out under Jim’s cheek.

 

 


 

During the day, Spock has duties to attend to, which means he has to pull himself from Jim’s embrace the moment the sun begins to peek over the horizon each day. Or, as is more often the case, Jim must pull himself from Spock’s relentless limbs, as Spock continues to assert that he can stay a few more minutes. Just a few.

But with Sarek overseeing all planetary military operations, Spock’s job is overseeing the army protecting Shi’kahr, an army that is, understandably, a little busy right now.

Jim tries to occupy himself each day, but his options turn out to be limited. At first, he joins his guards and the Vulcan laborers in their attempts to rebuild the decimated barracks. But he only gets an hour into clearing debris before Sulu, still wary of the rebels' sonic cannons and relentless artillery, suggests a man of Jim's importance shouldn't stand directly in the line of fire. Again.

Jim's attempt to persuade him that Vulcan royalty constantly put themselves in the line of fire — “When in Rome, right Commander?” — doesn't quite land, and soon Jim finds himself berated into caution.

So that day and many following, he secludes himself in the library, perusing the mountains of scrolls and datadiscs that he still can’t read in their entirety. What he's looking for, he can't say, but he finds plenty.

He finds records of scientific ‘advancement,’ technology pillaged from planets unlucky enough to fall victim to Vulcan's ire. He finds records of wars and their spoils. But he finds no records of attempts to better those spoils. The cloaking device, Romulan; the shields, Orion. And all becoming outdated with each passing year that Vulcan focuses on fighting over flourishing.

Their strength all comes second hand. And should an enemy dare to innovate — should Sybok dare to innovate — that strength could crumble. While Jim, and all of Terra, have known the origins of Vulcan's technology for decades, this revelation of imminent obsolescence doesn't sit well with him. Vulcan is well past its expansion years, and too focused on fighting its rebels to take the tech of another planet by force.

Too focused on fighting its rebels to accept the tech of another planet through alliance.

Jim doesn't talk to Spock about it, though he wonders if Spock knows his society is one lost war away from destruction.

He wonders of Sarek knows.

But Sarek is also busy, his guards say every time Jim requests a meeting. So Jim, without useful occupation, sends a daily message to his family updating them on the rather hopeless attempt at alliance, reminding them that he’s here and still trying. And alive, thank you very much.

And, strangely, he feels more hope for the alliance than he did when he first arrived. He has ammunition against Sarek now, evidence to bring to him of the benefits of Earth's aid.

And, more than that, he keeps hearing his father’s words ringing in his head, that if Spock thinks well of any of them, it can only help their cause. It’s becoming more obvious each night that Spock feels far more for Jim even than that. Jim can feel it buzzing under his skin when they make contact, can feel it in the mind that meets his own every time they meld — however shallow. It’s just fucking, Jim knows. That’s all they really have, he and Spock. But it’s something. And of course the hope that Spock might influence his father isn’t why Jim continues to let Spock into his room, his mind, his bed every night, but it may yet be a benefit.

He wouldn’t really know. For as close as he has gotten to Spock — and he has gotten far too close — Vulcan’s monarch remains a mystery.

Some ambassador, indeed.

 


 

Jim runs his finger along the healing gash on Spock's bicep, almost unconsciously. It’s pale green and a little raw, just a shallow wound, and could be healed entirely with another pass of a dermal regenerator. But it is proof that another beam of phaser fire got too close today. And though they are curled now facing each other in the cushions of Jim's bed and Spock is warm and alive and here with him and Jim feels the impression of Spock's teeth in his shoulder and the warm feeling of satisfaction and connection burrowing deep into his bones... Jim is still worried about what tomorrow will bring. Nearly two weeks since he arrived, and the siege has yet to die down.

“It is nothing,” Spock says, and Jim catches his eyes across the rumpled blankets between them. Spock's hand rests on the curve of Jim’s hip, fingers curling gently against him. “Do not trouble yourself over a small injury, Jim.”

Jim smiles, though he doesn't fully feel it. “I don't like the idea of you going out there every day,” he admits, knowing such a tender expression might appear weak to most Vulcans.

But not to Spock. Spock smiles softly at him, accepting Jim's care in his own quiet way. “It is my duty,” he says. “And I have no fear. Do not fear for me.”

“I will no matter what you say,” Jim says, but he moves his hand from Spock's injury and rests it along Spock's jaw instead. “I don’t like the fact that I can't help you. If your father would just let us send soldiers, or, hell, talk to Sybok —”

Spock lets out a bark of a laugh. “You know he will not,” he says.

Jim looks away from Spock's eyes, his hand falling to the bed between them. “If you were sa-te'kru,” he begins tentatively, “what would you do?”

When Jim looks up once more, the mirth has faded from Spock's eyes, his expression turning thoughtful.

“I am not sa-te'kru,” he says.

“Don't Vulcans deal in hypotheticals?” Jim asks with a diffusing smile. “Indulge me.”

Spock's hand on his hip trails up Jim's side, his touch warm and intimate and familiar. “I would accept your offer,” Spock says, and Jim's eyes widen.

“The alliance?”

“Yes. Though on the condition that we will not negotiate peace with the rebels. It seems a fair trade. Help in our fight in exchange for help in yours against the Klingons.”

Jim thins his lips at him. It's not the answer he would have preferred, but it's more than Sarek has ever offered them. “Have you told your father your opinion?” Jim asks.

Spock gives him a little smile and squeezes Jim's side. “He knows how I feel. But Sarek is too old to change his ways. He will remain Vulcan at all cost.”

“And you?” Jim asks. “I thought the lot of you were pretty set on ‘remaining Vulcan.’ stronger on your own and all.”

Spock’s eyes fall to a spot on the bed between them. Jim thinks for a moment that he might have said something wrong, and the apology is about to form on his lips when Spock looks up once more.

“I, especially, must remain Vulcan,” Spock says. “But my father’s weaknesses will not be my own.”

“What weaknesses?” Jim asks. He feels as though he may have pinpointed a few of them over the last two weeks, but Spock knows Sarek better than anyone.

Spock smirks and rolls onto his back, his hand coming to rest on his chest, his eyes finding berth somewhere on the ceiling. “I would be a poor son to reveal such things to an outworlder,” he says. “Suffice to say, he has many faults. We are none so strong as we pretend to be.”

Jim lifts himself on his elbow, a hand coming to join Spock’s on Spock’s chest. Unconsciously, Spock laces their fingers together. “Paper tigers,” Jim says on a sigh. When Spock turns to look at him, his eyes curious in the shine of blue from the window, Jim shrugs. “It just means you aren’t all what you seem,” he says.

As though he needs a moment to consider that, Spock looks away once again. But his hand tightens around Jim’s. “You are correct,” Spock says eventually. “We are not.”

Chapter Text

It has been a long time since Jim sat at this table. Last time he visited Vulcan, he was relegated to one of the far seats, observing but not participating. Now, he sits alone on his side, and Sarek sits stonily across from him. Empty cushions surround the table, and Jim almost feels the ghost of his parents’ presence in them, their expectations weighing heavy on his shoulders.

Jim offered Sarek the opportunity to bring more of his own advisors and clan leaders here today, but Sarek said that he only ever met on an even battlefield. Because Jim’s advisors are on a starship lightyears away, Sarek wished to meet with him privately.

It’s somehow more intimidating being alone with Sarek than if there were a hundred Vulcans sitting across from him. The room feels bigger than it ever has, its ceilings vaulted and echoing.

“Sa-te'kru Sarek,” Jim begins when it looks like Sarek’s content to hold a staring contest. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”

Sarek lifts his chin. “I do not need to tell you how important it is that I monitor the situation of my warriors,” he says stiffly, “but as the fighting has lessened for the evening, I believe I can sacrifice a few moments.”

Jim doesn’t miss the hard edge of Sarek’s voice. He knows how displeased the Vulcan leader is with Jim’s presence here, but Jim had an objective coming to Vulcan, and unlike his parents he won’t turn tail at the first sign of rejection.

“I am grateful,” Jim says. “You see, the fighting is exactly what I want to talk to you about. How many people have you lost since Sybok started attacking Shi’kahr?”

“Forty-seven,” Sarek replies without missing a beat. “But we have taken down twice as many rebels. We are still winning.”

Jim takes in a breath. One loss of life on Earth is considered a failure. He doesn’t think he’ll ever understand Vulcans. “I can’t help thinking,” he says, “how much more practical it would be —“

Sarek lets out an exasperated breath and slams his hands on the table, making Jim jump. “Practical,” he growls. “ This is why I cannot commit to a formal alliance with Terra. Your obsession with what is practical, when it goes against all that is honorable. We will not make peace with Sybok.”

“But you won’t defeat him, either,” Jim says. “Not like this. And I don’t think you even want to. Defending your city against attack isn’t the same as striking the enemy, and you’ve been pulling your punches since the rebellion started. Not to mention giving Sybok the time and space to work out your defenses.”

Sarek draws himself up, his back straight as a board. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that Sybok is your son, and maybe you don’t want to kill him.”

“How dare you accuse me of weakness?” Sarek shouts. He leaps to his feet, and for a moment Jim thinks Sarek might actually launch himself over the table and attack.

But Jim remains seated, trying to stay a calm center in a storm. “Love isn’t a weakness,” he says. “It’s a reality you’re going to have to deal with. And we can help you capture your son, maybe without any more bloodshed. You negotiated an armistice with us, didn’t you? Why is an alliance so hard to swallow? Would you rather lose this war?”

Sarek’s eyes are narrow, but with a deep exhale the worst of his rage seems to simmer. He turns from the table, making his way to the tall, thin window at their side. “You are determined, Prince James. Spock was quite right about that.”

Jim feels a small smile tug at his lips at the mention of Spock. It’s almost reflexive; he can’t help it. “He seems to value that,” Jim says. “Do you?”

Sarek’s arms cross over his chest, and Jim watches his shoulders tense.

“If you believe getting close to my son will aid in your cause, you are wrong. Spock does not control this planet, nor does he control my choices.”
“I’m not ‘getting close’ to Sp —”

Sarek lets out a derisive huff. “You are a young ambassador, so I may offer you some advice. It is unwise to lie to those from whom you hope to gain favors.”

Jim swallows. “Okay,” he says, “you’re right. I — I apologize. But I’m certainly not getting close to Spock for the purposes of manipulating you.”

“Then why?” Sarek asks, wheeling around.

Jim meets his eyes. Dark, like Spock’s. “I like him,” he says, deciding another lie probably won’t help his cause.

Sarek’s nose curls in a sneer. “It seems he returns that sentiment. Too much. You may think me ignorant to what has been happening between the two of you.”

Jim draws back, feeling nerves tingle swiftly down his limbs. He opens his mouth, dumbfounded for a moment before Sarek waves a hand, as if dismissing any explanation or apology — not that Jim would know how to begin giving one. Suddenly, Sarek seems rather tired. “I have seen this before, the effect your kind can have on us,” he says, turning back to the window and laying a hand on the sill. “Humans don’t understand. We Vulcans love fiercely. It is the only way we know how. If you cannot respect that —“

“I’m not using him, if that’s what you’re implying,” Jim says, the word ‘love’ echoing somewhere in the back of his mind where he knows he can’t venture right now. “I will do everything in my power to secure an alliance with Vulcan, don’t get me wrong. That’s why I’m here. But Spock is —“ Jim pauses, unsure how to describe what Spock is. A bonus? Certainly, but not just that. “Spock is separate. From this.”

“I hope that is true,” Sarek says. Jim stands, cautiously circling the table as Sarek turns to meet his eyes. “Prince James, I was known for many years as the spineless sa-te’kru who accepted Terra’s offer of peace, rather than pushing us to win that war. I will not accept Terra’s offer of alliance as well. I will not be remembered in our history as bowing to another planet’s wishes. And you must wait a very long time before Spock has the power to bow to yours.”

“I’m not using him,” Jim says again, getting frustrated now.

“Perhaps not intentionally,” Sarek concedes, approaching Jim with those sure, silent Vulcan steps. “But if he has come to care for you then he is weak to your will.”

Jim tosses up his hands. “Is any tender emotion a weakness to you?” he asks angrily. “Any sign of compromise?”

“Yes,” Sarek says, his fists clenching at his sides.

“Then why agree to the armistice in the first place?” Jim snaps.

“Because I was weak,” Sarek shouts. His teeth clench tight behind his lips, his face drawn in tight lines. “And I will not see my son torn down as I was.”

Jim stares at him, some of the fire leaving him. “I don’t want to tear him down,” he says, meaning it, hoping Sarek understands. “And I don’t want to tear down Vulcan. You have to know that.”

“What you want does not change what will happen,” Sarek says quietly. “I care little for your intentions when your actions may ruin us — ruin him.”

A silence hangs between them.

“You must leave,” Sarek says. “The moment it is deemed safe to do so. I will not speak with you again on the matter of an alliance, nor the matter of my son. He may do as he wills, as may you.” Sarek turns away. “But consider the consequences. I know Spock will not.”

Jim isn’t sure entirely what that means. He stares at Sarek’s back for a moment, his strong, hard shoulders, and flounders for words.

“Go,” Sarek says before Jim can think of anything to say. “And prepare yourself to leave this planet.”

Jim swallows, something hard clenching in his chest at the prospect of leaving after this. Empty-handed, returning in failure to his family — and leaving Vulcan. Leaving Spock.

“Thank you for your time, Sa-te'kru,” Jim says stiffly, and he bows. Sarek glances over his shoulder, meets Jim’s eyes, and turns away once more. That’s enough of a dismissal for Jim to understand.

Heart heavy, he takes a deep breath and leaves the negotiation room. Probably for the final time.

 


 

Deeper.

Jim doesn’t know which of them is begging for it this time, but it might be both. That word keeps rolling between their minds, whispered and gasped without voice, tinged with desire that’s agony to leave unfulfilled.

Deeper.

Spock’s pounding into him, his forehead pressed to Jim’s shoulder while his hand remains fixed against Jim’s meld points, maintaining the connection. Jim’s body lies bent beneath him, Jim’s hands grasping at the back of Spock’s neck and raising stinging lines with his nails. In Spock’s mind, Jim can feel those little flashes of pain, the surge of pleasure, the hunger Spock feels even as he slakes that hunger harder, faster —

Deeper, please.

Spock resists the pull, even as Jim’s thoughts beg him to give in. The beautiful chaos of Spock’s mind keeps reaching into him and drawing away, and Jim wants to capture it, pull it inside him. Their bodies move in tandem, Spock gasping and grunting with exertion as Jim tightens his legs around him, and he knows they’re close. But they both want more than this shallow meld — tempting and teasing them with the possibility of  —

Deeper.

Spock groans, his mind retreating even as Jim rolls his head onto Spock’s hand, holding it in place against the bed. There’s no way he’s letting Spock break the meld now. They’ve never been connected quite like this.

“Spock,” he says aloud, his voice echoing in his own mind, in Spock’s. “Please.”

So he is the one begging, though he knows Spock wants it, too. It’s all Jim can feel in his mind. All he can hear.

Deeper. I want him. I want to feel him. I want to have him.

“Spock,” Jim whispers again, “let — let go.”

Jim feels the moment Spock’s resolve buckles, giving in to the desire like a dam breaking. With a sigh of relief, Spock’s mind crashes into Jim’s like a tidal wave, and Jim welcomes the flood, opening himself fully to Spock, inviting him — begging him. Spock takes Jim’s lips in a breathless kiss, wet and hot and heavy as their minds mesh. And Jim freefalls into the feeling, a kind of connection he’s never experienced. Even as the pleasure builds toward release, Jim doesn’t want this to end.

Spock’s saying something against Jim’s skin, the Vulcan language, curling through the air as Spock’s essence curls around his mind, and somehow he understands every nuance of the words. It’s as if he’s hearing Spock’s thoughts. I cannot resist you either; I am weak; I should be strong but I do not wish to be. I will be weak for you, only you, only here —

Jim can feel them spiraling, falling farther into each other’s minds, the world and every physical sensation beginning to melt away.

Then, over the rushing current of their thoughts Jim feels a flash of overwhelming fear. Pure terror that rips through him like lightning, though he knows it’s not his own. And it’s in this panic that the pleasure peaks, Spock thrusting hard into him as his hand works Jim’s cock between them and Jim isn’t sure if he’s speaking aloud or if it’s all in his head, but all he can think is Spock’s name, over and over again until he’s cursing and crying out, fisting his hands in the long tangles of Spock’s hair and holding Spock’s head to his chest and curling up into him. He cums into the rhythm of Spock’s hand as Spock shudders and jerks and spills himself inside Jim once again.

But Spock doesn’t linger in Jim’s mind this time, not like he usually does. The moment the high crashes around them, he breaks the meld, dropping his hand to the bed beside Jim’s head, even as Jim turns to it, as if seeking the touch.

They’re both panting from exertion as Spock’s head falls to Jim’s chest, as Jim’s legs fall limp onto the bed, as the world returns to Jim's senses.

He feels the heat of Spock's breath on his skin, Spock's cock still hard inside him, and the tremble of Spock's limbs. Blinking into the cool dark light of evening, he sees the city lights glinting off the polished stone ceiling, his vision blurred and unfocused, his attention still in his head where the fear — Spock’s fear — pulses like a heartbeat. It takes him a moment to regain his breath, to resettle himself in this room, this bed. When he manages to shed the most clinging remnants of the meld, the fear still lingers like the scent of smoke after a fire.

“Spock,” Jim whispers. Spock lifts his head, and Jim brings a hand to his jaw. As Spock meets Jim’s eyes, he looks resigned to the question that he seems to know is coming. “What are you afraid of?”

Spock pulls back, dislodging Jim’s hands, and sits up to settle back on his knees. Jim’s heart is still pounding, his body still tingling from overstimulation, sweat cooling on his brow.

Spock holds his gaze. “You must know,” he says, voice quiet, raw.

Attempting a smile, Jim sits up and manages to scoot forward, leaning so his hands are resting on Spock’s bare thighs. “Spock, come on. You aren’t scared of me , are you?” He jokes, hoping to diffuse some of the strange tension between them.

A deep breath heaves Spock’s chest, and Jim’s smile falls. “Of course I am,” Spock says.

Though it would be impossible to misunderstand with Spock’s consciousness still bleeding into Jim’s own, Jim hopes for a moment that he heard him wrong. But Spock maintains eye contact as if in challenge.

“What?” Jim asks, withdrawing slightly. “Why would you be scared of me ?”

Spock shakes his head and pulls away from Jim’s touch, getting to his feet. Silent and stiff as Jim has ever seen him, he turns away and steps over the cushions and onto the floor, making his way over to the hygenic nook in the corner.

“Spock,” Jim says, getting to his own feet, though his whole body still feels like putty. Spock doesn’t seem to hear him as he grabs a towel from the shelf and begins to wipe himself down, back turned. “Spock,” Jim says again, more insistent this time. “Talk to me.” Jim just ascends the step to the floor as Spock finally turns around.

Their eyes meet, but even Spock's expression says nothing. Spock glances down to the towel in his hand, then approaches, walking with bare silent footsteps toward Jim. He’s still flushed green, his hair mussed. Normally Jim gets to see him like this laying beside him in a sea of white sheets, his lips gently smiling. It’s Jim’s favorite part of these nights they spend together, better even than the sex. The afterglow and the warm comfort of companionship.

But something poisoned it tonight. Something happened in their heads. That’s the only explanation for the strange mood that seems to have gripped Spock now.

When Spock meets Jim next to the bed, he takes Jim by the waist and tugs him forward, using the towel to wipe Jim’s stomach clean.

“I apologize,” Spock says finally. “I have been attempting to keep our melds shallow, but —“ He pauses, kneels, wiping Jim’s ass and thighs. It’s that kind of intimate, caring gesture that always takes Jim off-guard after a rough round of sex, no matter how he knows how Spock feels for him. At least, he thinks he knows how Spock feels for him.

“Why are you afraid of me?” Jim asks again. “I thought —“ he finds it in himself to laugh. “I thought I was just a weak Terran.”

Spock’s lips quirk and he exhales gently through his nose. Slowly, reluctantly, he rises to his feet. “May I tell you something, Jim?”

“Yes,” Jim says immediately. “I’ve only been asking you to for the last five minutes.”

Spock lets out a small laugh, if a strained one, and he turns from Jim, tossing the towel onto the bed and moving toward the window. Jim suspects Spock wants him to follow, so he does.

Together, they look out over the lights of the city, where Jim had been watching the slowing battle mere hours ago after his meeting with Sarek. He had been restless with anticipation, waiting for that sun to sink below the horizon so Spock could come to him.

And Spock had come to him, as he’s come every night.

“You must not repeat this to anyone,” Spock begins. “Nor must you ever suggest that you know the truth. But I wish… I wish you to know me.”

“What truth?” Jim asks. He thinks — maybe erroneously — that he does know Spock. Spock always speaks his mind. He tells Jim exactly what he wants. Exactly how he feels. And anything he doesn't say aloud, Jim can feel in his mind. There can hardly be secrets between them now, can there?

Spock meets his eyes, then looks back to the city with a sigh. “Perhaps this will explain my fear; my actions. Perhaps this will even explain my father. Though little can truly explain Sarek.” He pauses, shakes his head. “You see, Jim, my father once loved a human woman. It was many years ago, but I suspect he loves her still.”

Jim’s body goes still as the words reverberate through his skull. A human woman.

Sarek once loved a human woman. Is he even capable ? It’s so ridiculously impossible that Jim doesn’t register it as truth until he turns to Spock, takes in the serious lines of his profile, and realizes he’s not kidding.

“I’m sorry, what ?”

“You are surprised? As you say, we Vulcans are not all what we seem.”

“How could he have even met a human woman?” Jim asks, trying to reconcile the thought with the fierce Vulcan king he knows. “When was this?”

“Thirty-six years ago, an ambassador came from Earth,” Spock answers. “Amanda Grayson. She went to great lengths to understand our culture — to respect it, even as she sought peace between our planets. She became quite close to my father, who was still young, himself. He was a new sa-te’kru, and desperate to do well after his father’s death. But he was weak. Or, rather, he became weak.”

“Because he loved her?” Jim asks, his earlier conversation with Sarek suddenly thrown into sharp relief.

Spock nods.

“So he agreed to the armistice because he fell in love with Ambassador Grayson?”

“No,” Spock says, “not quite. Though I’m sure that did not hurt Earth’s prospects. No, he agreed to the armistice because she became pregnant, and gave birth to his child.”

Though it takes a moment, Jim feels puzzle pieces beginning to fit together in his mind. Dates lining up. Histories of two planets blending together. And it hits him as suddenly as a smack in the face. It can’t be. But then, Spock is about 35 years old.

“My mother could not bring me to Earth when she returned,” Spock says, perhaps failing to notice the widening of Jim’s eyes. “Primarily because it would be known that she had been inappropriately involved with my father — humans and your propriety .” He scoffs, but there's no humor in the sound. “And of course, at the end of the war, prejudice for Vulcans on Earth was high. I am, in almost every way, Vulcan. A life of prejudice is not what she wished for me, and a life of shame and exile is not what my father wished for her.”

Jim braces himself against the window, staring at Spock, the lights casting freckles of shadow over his face. “That’s why she was here for so long,” Jim marvels, hardly believing it himself. “A full year. She had a baby . She had —“

“She had me,” Spock finishes for him. “It was my birth that convinced Sarek to accept the terms of the armistice. To protect her, and so that she may visit, if she ever desired. She has not since I was a child. It became too painful for her.”

“I can’t believe it,” Jim says, and Spock finally looks to him.

Jim expected Spock to look upset, but he actually looks amused by Jim’s disbelief.

“Don’t laugh at me,” Jim snaps without anger, smacking Spock’s chest with the back of his hand. “This is — no one else in the Terran court knows, do they?”

“No,” Spock says. “And they must not. No one knows but my brother and a few trusted clan leaders. And, now you.”

“Why tell me?” Jim asks.

“Because I want you to know. This is why my father will not agree to the alliance. My father loves humanity, and he loved a human woman fiercely. This love is his weakness. Vulcans cannot show weakness, you understand. If it is known, it will be exploited.”

“But that’s Sarek,” Jim says. “That’s not you. You don’t have to be afraid.”

“I do,” Spock says. “I have seen my father’s love for Terra, for Amanda, change him. And I fear that change has already begun in me. He has told me since you and I met that I should learn from his history. I thought I had.”

Jim’s heart seems to stop beating in his chest, and he finds his hand coming to Spock’s arm, tugging him to turn him around. Spock complies with the movement, his eyes almost sad when they meet Jim’s own. “What are you saying?”

“I am saying,” Spock says, “that you are my weakness. It is more important than ever, in the face of our enemies, to remain strong. And yet I cannot stop myself …” He brings a hand to Jim’s cheek. Jim hardly registers the touch, absorbed as he is in the gleam in Spock’s eyes and the revelation in his words.

But Jim pulls away. He has to. “You think I make you weak ?” he asks, unable to muffle the outrage in his voice. “Why?”

Spock looks at him as if he’s surprised. “You’re offended?” Spock asks. “I thought it would be an honor to know that you have power over me.”

“Would you stop it with the power thing?” Jim snaps. Turning, Jim paces a few steps away, running a hand through his hair. The warm tingle of afterglow is gone now, replaced with something strange and sick and hollow. “This isn’t part of the game. Love isn’t about — about power. It’s supposed to be about being equals, lifting each other up. And you can’t love me, anyway,” Jim says, wheeling around and tossing out his hands. “You barely know me.” It feels like a lie even as it leaves his lips.

“I have felt you,” Spock says, approaching. Taking Jim’s hand, he presses palm-to-palm against him like he did before they parted five years ago. If Jim were smart, he’d pull away at once, but that psychic hum travels up his arm again and he’s frozen in place. “Every moment we have touched, I have felt you. My mind has been reaching for yours since I first saw you, and when we meld ...”

Jim swallows, staring into Spock’s eyes and knowing instinctively what he wants to say, but doesn’t have the words for. When they meld, it feels like clarity. Like they’ve spent their whole lives walking around with eyes closed and it’s only through each other ’s eyes they can see anything at all. But that’s ridiculous. They’ve only shared a few weeks, a few fucks, and —

And a tender parting kiss that Jim hasn’t stopped thinking about in five years.

They have always been drawn to each other. On some level, maybe they both knew when they met that this would happen to them.

When he remains silent, Spock’s fingers curl against Jim’s own, a tentative, warm touch that belies the fierce warrior Jim knows Spock is and can be. “When we met,” Spock says “I believed that conquering you would allow me to conquer the humanity in myself. I believed that I could prove my power over you and feel assured in my own strength. But it took you mere moments to overpower me, in your way, and then to return that power to me as if it were a gift. I did not prepare for this. I have not only failed to conquer you, but I have wished for you to conquer me. Given all you now know of my father, can you understand why this scares me?”

Jim curls his fingers, too, lacing them between Spock’s and holding his hand. He doesn’t understand, really, because he’s never once thought of sex as a conquest; never once believed one party held more power than another, no matter the games he’s played with Spock. But Jim is not Vulcan, and Spock is. Or, rather, he wishes he were.

“So what is it you want?” Jim asks. Spock doesn’t want to be weak, and Jim makes him weak. So it stands to reason that Spock wouldn’t want Jim.

But Spock raises his free hand to Jim’s cheek, closing the distance between their bodies. “More,” he whispers, lips hovering over Jim’s own. “I want more of you.” His fingers spread over Jim’s face, finding the meld points again, and Jim feels himself wilting into the possibility of that connection. “And this scares me too.”

“You’re resisting,” Jim says, suddenly realizing why Spock refused to deepen their meld, even when both their minds had begged for it. He thought he could keep his distance, as Jim thought all those years ago. “You said Vulcans never resist temptation.”

Spock gives him a small smile. “It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. I wish to see the very core of you, and I cannot trust myself to do so. It is unbearable.”

Jim leans subtly into the touch of Spock’s hand, feeling those sparks under Spock’s fingers. Spock is hard again where they’re pressed together, and Jim feels tendrils of his desire, his affection — his love — slipping through.

And Jim wants Spock to have power over him, too. Maybe that’s what love is — giving someone else the possibility to ruin you.

So what choice does Jim have? He leans in, lays a soft kiss on Spock’s lips. When he pulls away, he holds Spock’s hand against his face. “Love isn’t a weakness,” Jim says again, quietly. “No matter what you say — no matter what Sarek says. If you want more —“

A surge of desire rises in him, slips from Spock’s skin into his own, and Jim’s heart stutters at the feeling. Spock doesn’t just want Jim’s body. He wants his mind. His heart. Everything that is within him.

“Then take it,” Jim finishes, raising his free hand to Spock’s cheek, placing his own fingers on Spock’s meld points, mirroring Spock exactly.

A moment of hesitation passes, and Spock lets out a breath that feels like a surrender. Then, he leans in, lips brushing Jim’s, and he whispers those familiar words.

“My mind to your mind. My thoughts … to your thoughts.”

Jim’s mind alights with Spock’s presence, their combined consciousness curling together as effortlessly as if they were always meant to occupy the same space. It’s not like the other times they’ve melded, in the heat and frenzy of lovemaking where desire and passion are the only thoughts to cling to. Spock seems to sink into him like a stone in still water, and Jim welcomes his weight, opening his mind fully to the feeling flowing through him. Where usually he can only hear emotions and vague outlines of thoughts, now he hears everything — the chaotic order of Spock’s mind.

Stop, stop , Spock is thinking, pull back, pull out, too much, more, deeper, deeper , and Jim tries to soothe any of Spock’s worries, tries to project his own desires.

Deeper , he begs, relief choking him as Spock obeys. Deeper, deeper, deeper ...

I wish to see the very core of you.

Images flash like strobe lights, shared between them. Spock as a young boy, waving to a Terran shuttle as it flies off in the dark of night, knowing instinctively this is the last time he’ll ever see his mother — Jim staring out the window of a shuttlecraft as his planet recedes out the window, the fear of the unknown gripping his young heart even as excitement buzzes through him like a sugar high — Spock alone in the desert, slashing the throat of a le-matya with a bloodied ahn'vahr, words that Jim shouldn’t know except that he’s in Spock’s head now and he can feel their meaning — Jim standing naked in an empty bedroom, where the hollow loss of another lover still stings. They never want him. They want his title, and even that isn’t enough to satisfy — a crown on a young boy’s head, a suit of woven armor, an ocean and gray sky, a red sunset, a horseback ride through redwood forests, a Vulcan phaser clutched in a shaking hand, a parent’s dark eyes and a brother’s judgemental scowl…

A lifetime, two lifetimes of history and emotion pass between them in the space of a breath, and somewhere on the outside of the meld Jim knows that Spock’s lips are on his own and his hand is on Jim’s face, but he can’t feel the outside anymore, not like he has before.

But it’s alright, because the mind that envelops his own, the consciousness twining into his own, feels like home. It feels like him . He feels his determination, his passion, his loyalty and his love for the world and his heartache for his losses coming from Spock. It’s all a part of Spock, too — a commonality they share, so intrinsic to each of them that Jim can’t help but feel at peace with it.

I don’t want to leave this place , he thinks, or Spock thinks, or they both think in unison, and their twin voices answer: Then don’t.

Something in him trembles with the same fear and excitement he felt the first time he left Earth, but it finds comfort immediately, wrapped in Spock’s mind as they sink together, deeper, deeper, deeper, more .

Stop , Spock thinks, louder this time, pull back, pull out , but he knows it’s too late.

Too late for what? Too late for what?

And as their minds and memories swirl together, Jim feels Spock drift into place inside him. It’s as though the stone has hit the bottom of the lake of Jim’s mind, and it settles there in the sand.

Fear flashes like phaser fire through his mind, something that burns them both, and Jim is sure it’s coming from Spock until he feels it in himself, but he has nothing to be afraid of. Spock is here, with him, inside him. Spock is —

Jim’s knees buckle and he drops to the smooth stone of the floor as he gasps for breath, blinking into the darkness of his room as a sharp pain cuts through his head, throbbing in time to his racing pulse.

Spock is standing before him, a look of complete terror on his face, and even without seeing him, Jim would know he was afraid. It’s as if Spock is still inside him, his emotions raging. “Spock,” Jim says, bringing a hand to his head. He winces at the ache, talks through pain-clenched teeth. “S — Spock, what happened?”

Spock takes a step forward, reaches out a hand. Taking it, Jim stumbles to his feet, still holding his head as if that might actually soothe the pain and the pressure in his skull. It feels like a hot knife has carved his mind in two.

Laying his fingers against Jim’s temple, Spock seems to send soothing tendrils of cool energy into him, like the static that sparks when they touch but softer, more intentional, apologetic. It doesn’t ease the pain entirely, but it helps. But, no — it’s feeling Spock so close to his mind that helps, even if Spock is afraid. Even if Spock is angry with himself. How does Jim know Spock is angry at himself?

“What happened?” Jim asks again, leaning into Spock’s touch. “I — I can still feel you, but it’s more. Than usual.”

Spock’s face falls, and he swallows hard. Guilt, shame, anger, it hurts, he hurts what have I done?

“Jim,” Spock says, his expression pained, “I — our minds…”

It’s not an explanation. Jim’s legs are shaking, his whole body is shaking, and he closes his eyes, trying to breathe through his nose to steady himself.

“Here,” Spock says, and he guides Jim away from the window, back toward the bed. Jim feels like he hasn’t slept in days. He’s exhausted, aching.

Care, compassion, concern, guilt, shame —

“Spock, are we still melded?” Jim manages to ask as he steps gingerly down into the bed, Spock following him and helping him sink to his knees and down, back against the cushions.

The moment Jim lays down, he feels a little better. He can steady himself if he’s horizontal — the roiling stomach, the aching head. Spock removes his touch, and Jim feels his absence like a hole in his heart.

Spock hasn’t spoken, but Jim can’t even open his eyes to look at him. Even the dim city lights far below feel too bright to his aching pupils. “Spock,” he says, harder this time. “Are we still melded? How — I can feel you.”

Spock rests a hand on Jim’s chest, and thank god he’s touching him again. It’s as if Spock’s touch is the only thing that eases the ache.

“Our minds,” Spock begins again, pausing with a breath, “do not want to let go. They have — fused . But please, rest; the connection will be broken by morning.”

But Jim can feel Spock’s doubt, can hear the words in his head. What have I done? What have we done?

Exhausted — more exhausted than he has a right to be — Jim lays a hand over his eyes. “What aren’t you telling me?” Jim asks, his voice hollow. Spock’s hand rubs his chest soothingly, and he feels Spock shift, coming to lay beside him.

“We may discuss this in the morning, if there is anything to discuss,” Spock says evasively, and Jim turns to him, daring through the pain to crack open his eyes. Spock’s staring at him, his concern as obvious in his expression as it is in his thoughts. “You must rest, Jim. I apologize for … for hurting you.”

Did you hurt me?” Jim asks.

“The meld ...” Spock glances down, and his hand finds Jim’s free one on the bed between them. “I allowed myself to go too deep.”

“I wanted you to,” Jim says, holding Spock’s hand tight, wincing with the ache and the effort.

“I know,” Spock says. His fingers tighten around Jim’s briefly. “Please, Jim. Sleep.”

“I don’t know if I can,” Jim says, hand over his eyes once more as he lays back against his pillow. “My head is killing me.”

Spock shifts again, pulls Jim’s hand from his eyes. When Jim looks at him, he sees it, feels it.

Shame, regret, anxiety, love, love, love —

“Here,” Spock says again, softly. He places his hand on Jim’s face, and in a moment — even without speaking the words — he has slipped back into Jim’s mind, a gentle presence that eases the ache immediately. Jim wraps himself in Spock’s consciousness like a blanket, wraps Spock in his own, and breathes a choked sigh of relief.

It’s a shallow meld, but it feels right . And Jim realizes the source of the ache was the absence of Spock in his head.

I don’t understand , he thinks, and hears Spock’s response echo inside him.

Tomorrow , Spock says, curling up beside Jim but keeping his hand at Jim’s face. We will talk about this tomorrow . Jim could probe for answers in the subconscious thoughts swirling just under the surface of their connection, but the exhaustion is sinking into him now and Spock urges him to submit to it. It would be nothing short of idiotic to try to go any deeper tonight. Somehow he knows and understands this, but he still wants to.

Jim is afraid — or maybe Spock is afraid — but there’s comfort in their closeness. Though it takes some time, some whispering (or silent) assurances, Jim finally fades into sleep with Spock’s presence in his head, Spock’s arm over his chest.

 


 

It’s the red light of morning that wakes Jim up first, the sun shining through that wide window. It takes him a moment to remember where he is as he blinks into the light, as he sheds the vestiges of red desert dreamscapes. But even when he forces himself awake he realizes he's here , on Vulcan, in his chambers, and when he manages to open his eyes fully the first thing he sees is a familiar sight — a tangled mess of silky black hair, a head tucked next to his own in a nest of white blankets and pillows. Spock’s arm is still lying over Jim’s chest, a heavy and comforting weight.

But Spock's eyes are open, too, and he's staring unfocused downward at the bare skin of Jim's shoulder. As Jim stirs slightly, Spock lifts his head and meets Jim’s gaze, something tense in his expression as if he has been waiting hours for Jim to wake up.

Vulcans are not patient.

Looking into those eyes, Jim feels a warm, almost giddy wellspring of affection inside him, and he manages to smile through the sleep.

“Mornin’,” Jim says, lifting a fist to rub at his eyes. The headache is gone, blessedly, and for once Jim feels as though he’s gotten a perfect night’s sleep, in spite of the fact that they were up well into the night. Maybe it’s an effect of the meld, falling asleep in the comfort of a lover's mind. Disregarding the pain that preceded it, Jim thinks he could do with sleeping like this more often.

“You are awake,” Spock says, rising on an elbow and pulling away. “How are you feeling?”

Jim takes stock of himself. His body, a little sore like it usually is after sex. His head, no longer aching but certainly swimming. “Fine,” he answers. “The headache is gone, at least.”

“Do you feel —“ Spock pauses, sitting up fully now. “Do you feel me?”

“I don’t know,” Jim answers honestly. He struggles to sit up himself, still a little weak with sleep. “Give a guy a minute to wake up before probing his brain space.” He offers Spock a smile, and his heart flies into his throat.

He’s beautiful , he hears, as if a whisper at the edge of his consciousness. Or maybe he feels the words, but their impact is undeniable. Because it’s not his heart in his throat but Spock’s heart, the leap of affection at the simple sight of Jim’s smile.

But, with the realization, that smile falls from Jim’s lips, and Spock’s brows tighten. “We are still bonded,” Spock says quietly, but not surprised. As if he knew this was coming.

“Bonded?” Jim asks, unable to help the note of alarm in his voice. “What does that mean?”

Regret rises in him, not his own, and Jim’s gut clenches.

“I knew our minds were … suited. Compatible,” Spock says. He shakes his head. “That is why it has always been so hard to resist a deeper meld. But Jim you must know that I did not expect this to happen. I did not even know a bond was possible without a healer to facilitate it.”

“What bond ?” Jim asks. He lays his hand on Spock's thigh, as it seems Spock is more distressed by this than Jim himself. And if Spock is distressed, then Jim should probably be terrified. “What exactly happened last night?”

“Our minds could not let go of each other, and will not now. The pain you experienced last night came from the severance of our meld. I pulled out too early to — to ease you into the connection.” Spock's voice weighs heavy with meaning, but Jim still doesn't understand.

“So, wait. This — me, feeling your emotions — this is permanent?”

Spock lays his hand over Jim's, looking down to the contact. And he doesn’t need to speak, because Jim feels the uncertainty in him, overlaid with contrition and, yet, a thread of something else. A feeling Jim can only call completion.

“I do not know,” Spock says.

“So this isn't common, then,” Jim says flatly.

“To my knowledge,” Spock says, “It is unprecedented.”

Jim stares at him, those familiar dark eyes, and he doesn’t know if he can trust his own feelings. If they even are his own feelings. His heart is pounding against his ribs, Spock’s fear feeding his own as their emotions swirl together inside him. He could lose control of this feeling. He could lose control of everything — the diplomatic mission, the delicate situation of his planet and the threat of Klingon war, the force of his feelings for Spock which are too strong anyway, too much and already taken too far.

Whatever has been happening between he and Spock, whatever this is — relationship or fling or hopeless mistake — cannot be permanent. Cannot be deeper than it already is. No matter what they want and no matter what happened between their minds.

“What does this mean?” Jim asks.

Spock breathes in. His fingers curl tighter around Jim’s hand and Jim feels Spock’s sadness, his regret. “It means that you and I —“

A sound of scraping stone and a hurried shout — “In here!” — shatters Spock’s sentence before it can begin, shatters the warm silence of morning around them, and they turn in shocked tandem toward the door as it flies open.

A half a dozen Vulcan warriors spill into the room in full armor, phasers drawn and pointed forward — pointed at Jim and Spock. T’Pring leads their fore, expression grim, determined and hardened at every line —

Until her eyes find Spock, naked in Jim's bed, and she stops dead in her tracks, bare feet sliding on the polished floor as she holds out an arm to halt her fellows.

Just as Jim manages to register the sight of them all standing dumbstruck in his room, just as Jim feels the swell of panic speed his heart, Spock’s shock rams into his mind like a bull. It takes the breath out of his lungs.

“Shit!” Jim curses, tossing the sheet over his lap as Spock straightens. “What the—“

“Dorli Kahr-lan?” T’Pring asks in clear outrage. “What are you —“

“If you are planning to ask me what I’m doing here,” Spock says dangerously, “then you may first answer that question for yourself.” He rises to his feet like a colossus, seemingly entirely unashamed of his nudity “This is the private room of a visiting dignitary. Lower your weapons.”

They do as they’re told, but they keep their fingers on the phasers’ triggers, each casting nervous, confused glances at each other. They may have no way of knowing, but Jim can feel that Spock’s anger is tremulous, deceptive. A cover for something else. Fear, concern, love, love, love, leave him alone

“Respect, Dorli Kahr-lan,” T’Pring says, ducking her head. Jim wraps the sheet around his middle as he stands, his heart pounding. “We thought — have you been here all night with him?”

Spock’s eyebrow shoots up into his unruly hair and Jim thinks for a moment that he’s going to take one of those phasers and shoot every last one of them. “I fail to see how you have the audacity to ask me that question,” he says icily. “Explain your presence.”

She glances to her warriors, as if seeking their help. Of the group, Jim only recognizes Stevek, whose eyes are turned away, his face tight. The others avoid T’Pring’s gaze as well Jim’s own. “Of course, Dorli Kahr-lan,” T’Pring says after a moment, maybe realizing that she is in command and on her own in this. “There has been an … an incident. We thought the Terran prince to be responsible.”

“An incident?” Spock asks, and T’Pring seems to recoil at his tone. Jim didn’t think there was a thing in the universe that could cause a Vulcan Ot-lan to recoil . “And why would you suspect Prince James?”

“Because his guards were in our barracks all night, and did not leave,” T’Pring says. “It could only have been him.”

Leaving Jim standing in the center of their nest of cushions, Spock ascends the step leading up to the floor and approaches the group of warriors. Each of them step back as if the sheer force of his expression would be enough to send them running if they weren’t backed against a wall already.

“And why must it have been a Terran? What has happened, Ot-lan?” Spock’s voice drips with venom, but Jim can hear him, feel him, even if he can’t see his expression. He’s as scared as Jim is — likely as scared as his warriors.

T’Pring swallows, straightens, as if she’s a convict facing down the gallows with what is left of her pride. “I am sorry to be the one to inform you, Dorli Kahr-lan. It has to do with your father. He —“

Spock’s shoulders draw tight, and it must be the look on his face that causes T’Pring to stop speaking. The fear in Spock’s mind takes on another tenor, and Jim feels his own heart sinking.

“My father?” Spock asks harshly.

“He has been ... killed, Dorli Kahr-lan,” she finally finishes. “Slain in his bedchambers. You see, it could only have been a Terran. No Vulcan would do this.”

Spock stands silent as death, his hands clenched at his sides, and suddenly the emotions that Jim has felt simmering under the surface of his own thoughts go quiet — as if shock has frozen all feeling in Spock’s heart.

But Jim — Jim’s whole world crashes around him in the space of a heartbeat. “Sa-te'kru Sarek is dead?” he asks, hardly hearing his own voice. A montage of potential outcomes is already flying through his head — rebel uprising, Shi’khar on fire, phaser beams flying past his head, Spock suffering the same fate as his father and bleeding there on the floor at Jim’s feet — before he realizes the Vulcans blame him .

“Why would you think I was responsible?” he practically shouts, striding forward with the sheet still held round his middle. “We came here to ally with Sarek.”

“And he rejected you,” T’Pring says. “You argued when you first arrived and were overheard shouting yesterday. If we had known —“ her eyes shift back to Spock as Jim draws level with him, and Jim finally gets a good look at his face. The expressive, warm look Jim is used to, even the hardened look of a warrior in battle… it’s all gone. He looks like an android.

“Spock,” he says gently, laying his free hand on Spock’s shoulder. Spock shakes him off, his eyes narrowing at his soldiers. He doesn’t even look at Jim, but Jim can feel it, something dark rising in him. At first it’s a shadow on the edge of his mind, like a cloud drifting over the sun, but with each second that passes it grows heavier on Jim’s heart, tightens his throat, stings his eyes until it’s set to swallow him. Jim can’t tell if it’s grief or fury or fear, but whatever it is chokes him like smog, spreading poisonous over their mental connection.

“I need a full report,” Spock finally says, turning on his heel and walking in sure strides back to the bed. He kneels to retrieve his robe from where they’d unceremoniously discarded it last night, then stands and tosses it over his shoulder, tying it haphazardly around his waist.

When he turns back to them, his face is green with suppressed rage, his dark eyes narrowed like slivers of flint.

“Spock,” Jim says again, but Spock walks right past him.

“Meet us in the negotiation room when you have dressed, Prince James,” Spock snaps, and Jim stares after him as Spock pushes through the warriors and makes his way down the corridor. The group follows without question, only T’Pring staying behind for the slightest moment as she meets Jim’s eyes. But in short order, she turns away too, and the door slides shut behind them.

Jim stands alone in the wide, empty nothing of his room; one thought rises to the surface of his mind and repeats over and over and over again without a second’s relief, the terror of its implications building with each refrain.

Sarek is dead .

Sarek is dead. And some heavy, choked noise — a sob — catches in Jim’s chest as he doubles over. Jim didn’t even particularly like Sarek, but Spock — Spock’s heart is screaming its grief so loudly Jim can’t imagine there isn’t a person in this palace who can’t hear it.

But only he can. Because Spock is in his head, and he’s in Spock’s, and even as Jim struggles for breath and tries to force back the threat of tears, he knows that this is not his emotion coming through. He needs to be strong, to try to force this in check or it could become an endless feedback loop of grief. He can’t think about what this means for him now. He can’t even think about what this means for Spock. He has to concentrate on Vulcan. On Terra.

He must be a diplomat before he is a lover. He must put his planet before his heart. He must put everything before Spock, no matter that it feels like he’s betraying a part of himself by doing so.

But if Spock is to handle this crisis, Jim knows Spock must do the same. So Jim steadies his breath, rubs his face, talks himself off the edge of a panic that isn’t his own, and tries to erect walls between his mind and the flood of Spock’s feelings.

Behind his eyes, in the deepest part of his mind, an ache begins to throb once again.

 


 

The rebels are gone, the warriors say. They pulled back sometime in the early morning, and T’Pring guesses given all evidence that the siege, the siege that killed 47 Shi’kahr warriors and ended in the death of the sa-te’kru, was nothing more than a distraction. One of Sybok’s agents must have been looking for a way through undetected, and they must have finally found it. After nearly two weeks.

They don’t know how the agent made it through. They don’t know who the agent may have been. But this agent snuck into Sarek’s room and killed him in his bed. A death without dignity, without purpose. A death Sarek would be ashamed of.

None of them say ‘assassin,’ none the least because there exists no Vulcan translation for the word. Instead, as each warrior provides their side of the story — the guard who found Sarek dead, the warrior who questioned Jim’s guards — they call this agent a ‘coward.’ The coward snuck into the palace. The coward killed Sa-te’kru Sarek in his sleep.

Their shock and disgust is palpable.

Vulcans are fighters, no doubt, but they’re the kind of fighters who meet their enemies face-to-face, who don’t resort to guerrilla warfare. The guards never planned for an assassin. Why would they? No Vulcan would ever stoop so low.

But now their leader is dead, and they can’t blame it on Jim, on a Terran whose concept of honor in battle is so different from their own. They have to blame it on a Vulcan. This revelation seems to paralyze them.

Spock stands at the other end of the room, rather than sitting at the table the warriors abandoned to remain standing, too. Whether it’s out of fear or respect Jim can’t tell.

Jim, though, stands by the door about as far from Spock as he can be, arms crossed over his chest, listening quietly as T’Pring explains where her operatives are now. Now that they know they have an assassin to find.

As Jim watches, Spock holds his arms at his sides with his head down and his hair hanging like a curtain, obscuring his expression from view. But Jim can tell by the tight clench of his shoulders, the bite of his nails into his palms. He can tell by the sickness in his own stomach. This isn’t grief anymore — or maybe Spock simply has no room for grief right now. This is pure rage, setting Jim’s own teeth on edge.

When T’Pring has finished her report, her eyes downcast as if she can’t even bring herself to look at Spock, everyone stands in silence for a moment.

“Dorli Kahr-lan,” T’Pring begins after a while, but she stops dead when Spock finally raises his head to look at her.

“You wasted precious time,” he says, “as the coward escaped. You hunted down the Terrans who came to us with a hand extended in friendship, while my father’s murderer walked unseen from this palace. Do you not know our enemies are our own kind? Do you not know who stands most to benefit from Sarek’s death?”

The soldiers look to one another, and T’Pring bows. “We regret our mistake, Dorli Kahr-lan. At this moment our warriors are sweeping the area, with assistance from Prince James’ guards.”

“’At this moment,’” Spock repeats hollowly, and ice runs through Jim’s veins. “Your actions now do not erase your actions of the past.”

“Of course, Dorli Kahr-lan.”

“I am no longer Dorli Kahr-lan. With Sarek’s death, Sybok’s treason, I am now your sa-te'kru. You will address me as such.”

“Of course, Sa-te'kru.”

Spock stares at them, raking his eyes over each individual soldier. Then, his eyes turn to Jim’s and Jim thinks he sees something in them. A flicker of emotion ignites underneath all the fury, like a spark lit in an already raging forest fire.

“Leave me,” Spock says, and though he is looking at Jim it is clear the order is meant for his warriors. “And devote every resource to finding Sybok and this coward who slayed our sa-te’kru.”

My father . Jim hears the words in the recesses of his mind, weighed with pain, and his expression softens as he stares into Spock’s eyes.

The warriors bow without a word and turn tail toward the door. It seems to take them hours to file out, one by one, though it must only be seconds. And when finally the door closes behind them, they leave an oppressive silence in their wake. Jim isn’t sure he should be the first to break it.

But, somewhere inside him, he feels that Spock needs him to. So Jim pushes off from the wall and, on fragile footsteps, he approaches his lover. Spock, sa-te’kru of Vulcan, whose eyes fall back to the floor as if they can’t bear the weight of Jim’s own.

“Spock,” Jim says, worried Spock will ignore him as he did earlier. Jim would understand if he thought he needed to. Walls might protect him from feeling too much, too hard. But inside, Spock is seething like an ocean during a storm.

Spock looks up to him, his eyes dark and his shoulders falling. “Jim,” he says, a tone of voice that sounds more like ‘help.’

Reaching Spock, Jim lays a hand on Spock’s shoulder, drawing him around so they’re facing each other fully. Through the contact of their skin, Jim feels Spock’s fear as if blasted through an amplifier, his rage boiling just under the surface, his overwhelming despair.

“I’m so sorry about your father,” Jim says.

Spock  swallows and turns away, taking a few steps and breaking their contact. Jim watches his back, where his shoulders are drawn tight and hard. “This is Sybok’s doing. Not yours. And Sybok will pay for this with his life.” His fists are clenched at his sides, and Jim is more afraid of the tremor of quiet rage in his voice than he would be if Spock were shouting.

“If — Spock, the second I tell Earth what’s happened, they’ll want to help. Sarek didn’t want us to intervene, but you —“

“I cannot accept Terra’s aid in this,” Spock snaps, his hand slicing through the air as he wheels around to face him. “I will not.”

Jim startles, his heart sinking further down an already endless pit of despair. “But you said — Spock, what are you talking about? We have resources, spies, diplomats, people who could help you track Sybok down and put him behind bars —“

“When I find my brother, when my people find him, I will not imprison him,” Spock says coldly. “I will kill him with my own bare hands. And you and your planet would stop me if you were able. There will be no alliance. Humanity was my father’s weakness and it will not be mine.”

“Last night —“

The sadness in Spock churns like lava in the belly of a volcano, and Spock’s face hardens as if it’s the only way to force down the pain. But Jim doesn’t know how to force it down, and he takes a step back, his heart aching. “Last night,” Spock says, “I confessed my fear to you. Fear of my own weakness. With my father dead, I cannot be weak. Do you understand? I cannot ally with Terra knowing that my feelings for you have clouded my judgment. I cannot show favor toward you when my brother will find any weakness I have and use it to tear me to shreds.”

“Damnit, Spock!” Jim tosses his hand, his frustration boiling over. “Stop calling me a weakness! You’d be stronger with our help!” He pauses, and when next he speaks his voice does sound weak. “You’d be stronger with my help.”

As Spock stares at him, Jim approaches, and like a fool he holds out his hand as if Spock might take it. But he doesn’t, no matter what he said he might do if he were sa-te’kru. He doesn’t take Jim’s hand. Instead, he takes a step back, and Jim’s left standing before him with an arm outstretched, dumbfounded. Even across their short distance, Spock’s mind reaches for him, but Spock won’t give into it now. Somehow, Jim knows that.

“You and your soldiers will leave immediately,” Spock whispers.

“Like hell we will,” Jim says. He comes forward, edging into Spock’s space. Spock’s eyes snap up to him. “I’m not leaving you alone. Not like this.”

A sneer on his lips, Spock gestures angrily toward the door as he speaks. “Already rumors of our affair spread through the ranks. How long —“ some fire leaves him, his hand falling limp to his side. “ How long until one of Sybok’s cowards comes for you?”

In spite of his tone, Jim only feels fear in him. No anger. No force. No power.

A paper tiger, just like his damned father.

“I’ve got soldiers to guard me,” Jim says without missing a beat, “ and you. In case you’ve forgotten, we’re together every night. And you can feel me, Spock — you’ll know if I’m in danger.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Spock says. My father was the greatest warrior the planet has ever seen, and Sybok reached him.”

“That’s enough reason for me to stay,” Jim says, tossing up his hands. “You’re worried about me? Fine, be worried. But I can’t leave knowing you’re in the same danger as your father. Worse.”

Spock turns away from him, shaking his head and clenching a fist at his side. “You will leave immediately. Terrans are no longer welcome on this planet.”

“Spock —“

“I am not making a request as your lover. I am giving you an order as sa-te'kru of this planet. You will leave or risk a new war between Terra and Vulcan.”

It takes a few seconds of echoing silence for Jim to be sure he heard Spock correctly.

“You don’t mean that,” Jim says, voice hollow.

Spock wheels around to him, face contorted with rage — until it isn’t anymore. Until the lines carved at the corners of his lips smooth out and his eyes weigh down with misery. Jim feels it crash into him like a meteor, obliterating everything in its path. “I must,” Spock says quietly.

“I can’t —“ Jim pauses, glancing down, clenching his own hand if only to have some pressure to remind him to stay grounded. He can’t get emotional over this. He is supposed to be a diplomat, not — “I want to help you, Spock. This feeling ,” he brings a hand to his chest, to his heart, where he feels everything Spock feels. “You don’t have to handle this feeling on your own. And whatever it is that’s happening with our heads … Whether you like it or not, I’m in this with you.”

Those words hang in the air, and Spock puts a hand to his head, closing his eyes. “This bond,” Spock says, “cannot be allowed to strengthen. If we part now, it may fade. Do you understand, Jim?” He drops his hand, letting out a breath. “Sending you away is the best choice I can make for my planet, for myself, and for you. I am going to kill my brother, or he is going to kill me. If you stay, he will likely kill you, too. And I cannot protect you.”

“I don’t need you to protect me.”

“Then I need you to protect me,” Spock says. He comes toward Jim, then, lifting a hand to Jim’s cheek. Jim melts into the contact, whether he wants to or not, and Spock pulls up against him, their foreheads pressing hard together. Through the touch, Jim feels it all, hears it all. Spock’s love swirling into him and finding refuge in Jim’s own. It eases the ache in Jim’s head, but it doesn’t reach his heart. “I have lost my father,” Spock continues in a whisper. “I cannot lose you, too.”

“But what about Earth? Why won’t you let us help you?” Jim asks, hands coming to Spock’s shoulders and holding him close.

“Because I must appear stronger than my father ever did. I must be stronger than he ever was. And, for my own honor, I must avenge him myself.”

“You’re insufferable ,” Jim says, but there’s no fire in it, and Spock will know there’s no truth in it either. He tilts his cheek into Spock’s hand, closing his eyes. “Honor, power, strength. They’re just words , Spock.”

“They are all I have now,” Spock responds, and Jim’s heart clenches.

“You have me.”

Spock guides Jim forward with the gentle pressure of his hand, and their lips meet. It's tentative at first. Spock knows, if he must send Jim away, he should resist. Jim knows, if he must go, he should pull back. But even though they can feel the hesitation in each other, they can feel the desire, too. That simple desire that consumed them both from the moment they met. That simple desire to be close.

So they kiss there in the room where alliances far larger than their own have been debated, and have failed, and Jim wraps his arms around Spock’s back, willing Spock to understand that Jim can’t let him go. Not now. Not —

Not ever.

Spock has become a part of him. Whether or not the bond fades, Jim knows there’s no going back from this.

When they pull apart, Spock is hardly breathing, his thumbs stroking Jim’s cheeks desperately as Jim’s hands come up to grip Spock’s wrists. Their eyes meet.

“This is why you must go,” Spock says. “I cannot...”

“You can’t resist,” Jim finishes quietly, pulling out of Spock’s hold. He takes a few steps back, if only because he knows that if he stays in Spock’s arms a moment longer he won’t be able to leave.

“You have always believed resistance makes one stronger,” Spock says.

Jim swallows. “I think I was wrong. I think we’re stronger together.”

“I am unwilling to test your theory when my life, your life, is at stake.”

Jim takes a deep breath, staring into Spock’s eyes. “I hate this,” he says. “Please, just think about it. We can help. I can help.”

“My decision is made,” Spock says. “And the rebels have retreated. Please, go.”

“Please? I thought you were ordering me to go.”

Spock’s own sadness rages inside him, heartache opening a pit in his stomach that Jim doesn’t know how to close, or how to fill. Or, rather, he does, but Spock doesn’t understand. How he could be in Jim’s head and still not understand...

But in Spock’s eyes, in his heart, Jim sees only resignation. “Right,” Jim says. “And the bond? What will happen when I leave?”

“I do not know,” Spock answers, and Jim feels Spock’s shame for his uncertainty. “It may fade, or weaken. It may get stronger. I have never bonded with another before.”

Jim nods numbly. He knows the weight in those words if only because Spock knows. This isn’t just a meld gone awry, but two minds that sought each other, found each other and refused to let go. Spock has never bonded with another. It means Spock could not have bonded with another.

And now he’s pushing him away.

“Goodbye, Jim,” Spock says, and Jim’s not sure he even has the capacity to respond.

So he turns away, if only to hide the pain in his eyes that Spock will feel no matter what he does. And he walks out the door.

 


 

The familiar corridors of the starship feel cold. Not just in temperature, though it is markedly chillier than Jim became accustomed to on Vulcan. But the steel walls and gleaming gilt of Earth’s flag — painted in every corridor — feels somehow clinical after the polished stone and dusty sand and thick floral scent of the Vulcan palace.

Jim supposes that’s a good thing. It would be harder to separate himself from the issues facing Vulcan now, from the issues facing Spock, if he were there in the thick of it. And he needs to treat this as unemotionally as he can, even when he can feel Spock’s grief and anger churning in the deepest parts of his mind. It’s hard to distinguish whose emotions are whose, but this feeling must be Spock's.

Because as he settles down in front of a computer screen after a fraught meeting with his advisors, as he opens a secure subspace channel to the monarchs of Earth, all he feels — at least, of his own emotions — is a numb sort of heartbreak. As the monitor blinks and tries to connect, Jim hopes blindly that Spock can't feel it in him. Spock is dealing with enough, and Jim, this bond they now share, is a distraction.

A weakness.

When Jim’s parents’ faces pop up on screen, looking harried and stricken, Jim knows he, too, needs to push it aside — Spock and their bond — at least until his job is done.

“Jim,” Winona says hurriedly. “I’m glad you’re alright. The reports from Vulcan — of course they’re just rumors but ...“

Jim sighs, leaning back in his seat. “If the rumors are saying that Sa-te'kru Sarek has been assassinated, they’re right,” he says lowly.

Winona and George both lean back from the screen. “My God,” George says lowly. “Sybok?”

“Or one of his agents, yeah. Believe it or not, the Vulcan warriors thought I killed him.”

Their eyes widen in tandem, and George flaps a hand at him. “Okay, start from the beginning. What happened?”

Jim rubs his forehead and begins with a long inhale. “At some point,” he says, “well before sunrise, an assassin snuck into the Vulcan palace, killed Sarek in his bedroom, and vanished. His body was found by his personal guards.”

“And why would they think you did it?”

“Because Sarek and I had an argument,” he answers simply, “well, two arguments. One just yesterday. They thought I wanted to kill him for refusing the alliance, and they couldn’t believe one of their own would assassinate someone. You know that's not how they do things.”

“An argument?” George asks, shocked and clearly skipping over everything else Jim just said. “Jim, we sent you there to offer help, not antagonize the man.”

“I know,” Jim says. “But you know he didn’t want our help. The situation just got tense, and then it quieted down. It definitely wasn’t enough to make me want to kill him.”

“So why did they let you leave the planet?” Winona asks. “If you were a suspect…”

Jim swallows. He was already planning to tell them. They’ll find out eventually now that the whole Vulcan army and Jim’s soldiers are talking about it, and he’d rather be the one to break the news.

But this, in the context of this conversation, is not the most ideal context. Still, Jim swallows his pride, and tells the truth.

“Spock,” he replies. “He vouched for me. He was with me at the time of the assassination.”

“What was he — it was before sunrise, Jim,” Winona says, and she and George trade a look.

Jim swallows. “Well, he was with me all night, you see.”

He raises his eyes to them, and by the looks on their faces they do, indeed, see.

“James,” George says cautiously. “We’re at risk of an interplanetary incident. In order to do our jobs, we need to know the exact situation.”

Nodding, Jim fidgets with his sleeve out of view of the screen, feeling fortunate that in the maelstrom of emotion he’s experienced today, he doesn’t much have room or energy left for embarrassment. “The truth,” he says, “is that Dorli Kahr-lan Spock — well, Sa-te'kru Spock now — we’ve been ah, seeing each other. Privately.”

Jim should expect the horrified silence of his parents, but as the seconds stretch without a response he has to resist the urge to curl in on himself like a salted slug.

“Let me get this straight,” George says dangerously, leaning forward as Winona puts her head in her hands. “On a diplomatic mission — the most important diplomatic mission we’ve undertaken in decades, mind you — you sleep with the son of the very leader we’re trying to court?”

“Yes,” Jim says, deciding not to beat around the bush. His parents are right — they need to do their job. Even if it means Jim will lose his. Of course, he’s a member of the royal family and always will be, but if he had to guess he’d assume he’d never be allowed another diplomatic assignment after this fiasco. “It was a terrible idea. I know,” he continues as they both look at him as though he did kill Sarek himself. “But now that Sarek’s dead and Spock is sa-te'kru, I can see how it looks even worse than it would have otherwise.”

“I should say so,” Winona huffs, shaking her head in disbelief. “Jim, what were you thinking?”

He looks at her for a moment, wondering if it’s possible to even admit it to himself. He wasn’t thinking. He was feeling, and he allowed that feeling to overcome him. Just as Spock did. But Jim isn’t Vulcan. He isn’t a slave to his desires, however innate and instinctual they may be. He had the power to resist, to refuse, and he chose not to at every turn. In the end, Spock was the only one who made a decent decision. Spock was the one who sent Jim away.

When he’s silent for too long, George stands and walks away from the screen, rubbing his neck. Jim meets his mother’s eyes, and tries to communicate a silent apology.

“So,” George says, turning back to the screen but not resuming his seat. “Sarek is dead. Spock is sa-te'kru. And in spite of the fact you tried to sway him with —“ he pauses, shakes his head —  “in spite of your relationship , he sent you back to Earth without accepting our offer of alliance?”

“Yes,” Jim says, trying to cover the offense at George’s tone. He hadn’t wanted to ‘sway’ Spock to anything. Politics had never figured into what they’d done — minus the dirty talk, which admittedly got a little political here and there.

“Why?” Winona asks. “He was sympathetic to our cause when we last spoke to him, and he should understand now that Sybok won’t relent without our help. You said it yourself, Jim, if Spock were sa-te’kru…”

Jim thins his lips. He can’t tell them the real reason Spock sent him away, the weakness he claims Jim represents. “He said,” Jim begins slowly, “that he wants to kill his brother, and we would stop him. Which, well, of course we would try. But he also said it’s more important than ever that they seem strong. They can’t show weakness to Sybok. Apparently asking for help is a weakness.”

“What about taking help when it’s offered?” George challenges.

Jim  shakes his head sadly. “I don’t think Vulcans know the difference.”

They stare at each other in silence for a moment, and though Jim knows the only emotions in his head are his and Spock’s, he swears he can feel their disappointment.

“Alright,” Winona says. “We’ll talk more about this when you come home. You will face consequences, Jim.” She sounds understanding, but Jim has suffered both of their ‘consequences’ before, for much more minor offenses. They won’t be gentle.

“Before we go consult our advisors for next steps, Jim —“ George pauses. “Is there anything else we need to know?”

Without consciously intending to, Jim’s mind conjures up the feeling of Spock’s fingers against his face, that feeling of flying and floating in the deep waters of Spock’s mind, the feeling of the currents connecting them even now. He thinks of Spock’s despair, like a black hole in Jim’s own gut, and realizes suddenly how useful it might be for Earth to know, at any moment, what Vulcan’s Sa-te'kru is feeling. What he’s thinking. Where he is.

This mental bond could change everything. It could be used. It could be a tool.

“No,” he says quietly. “There’s nothing else.”

Chapter Text

Interlude: Five Months

 

I.

Grief would be a formidable enough opponent on its own, a challenge that never gets easier to face, though Spock has faced it before. But to face his grief compounded with the pain of his separation from Jim, his fear for Jim’s life, and the overwhelming pressure of sudden responsibility … Spock has begun to feel as though he’s challenging an alliance of formidable opponents, and he has no allies of his own.

The day of Sarek’s death, Spock oversees the removal of Sarek’s body from his chambers. It is his duty as Sarek’s son, as the new sa-te’kru. He must ensure that any object stained with Sarek’s blood is burned. He must ensure every hand that touches the sa-te’kru’s corpse is washed. He must ensure that the process is silent. So he stands with his arms crossed over his chest -- rising and falling with shallow, aching breaths -- as servants roll green-soaked sheets into bundles to carry to a bonfire. He watches his guards dragging the limp, lifeless form of his father across the slick, polished floor, before lifting him onto the palanquin they will carry to the temple. Miles, they will walk, collecting their procession of mourners from the citizens lining the streets.

Spock was not yet born when his grandfather, the previous ruler of the planet Vulcan, was laid to rest. As the man’s life had little to nothing to do with Spock’s own, Spock hadn’t cared to hear details about the ritual, about the pilgrimage Shi’kahr had become as clans across the planet sent mourners to honor the great, powerful sa-te’kru. The last powerful sa-te’kru of the S’chn T’gai line, to hear most elders tell it. They have long viewed Sarek as weak for conceding to peace with Terra, and they would view Spock as weak if they knew how hard it was for him to send his human lover away. If they knew Spock wanted the alliance his father had refused.

Whether or not they see it in him, Spock feels very weak indeed.

And as he faces down the prospect of his home becoming a pilgrimage once more, Spock wishes he had paid attention to the tales of his grandfather's passing. The ritual required to honor a Vulcan sa-te’kru takes days to complete – eight endless, sleepless days -- and Spock does not know what to do.

He is not the only one who seems lost. Every clan leader that soon comes to stay in the Shi’kahr palace, each of them young and powerful and proud, look now to the spiritual elders who will ensure Sarek is mourned with honor, though he died without it.

But Sarek’s people do not mourn the man their ruler was – many do not know the man Sarek was. They mourn the end of his era. They grieve because they are left in the hands of Sarek’s second son, and they do not know the path Spock may lead them down. Even Spock does not know the path he will lead them down. He has been consumed by one goal, to kill his brother in cold blood, with his bare hands if he can manage it, and to mount Sybok’s head on a pike. What comes after? He cannot think about after.

His citizens and his ask’er may know this. They may question his wisdom, his leadership. To his shame, the possibility of their judgement weakens him further.

Spock’s eight days fill with the scent of incense, the chants of Vulcan elders, the gilded polish of the platform where Sarek – clean now of blood – is laid to be viewed, to be adorned with flowers and jewelry, all the luxuries he denied himself as a warrior, now given to him as a king.

Vulcan royalty do not wear ornamentation until their death. It is a way to prove that they are formidable without such trappings. A Vulcan sa-te’kru must carry his responsibilities on his head, not a crown. Spock would almost rather have the jewelry.

On the eighth day of the ritual, his father’s corpse lies on a pyre consumed by flame, flowers curling into ash around his head, gold falling to the dusty ground as the wood crumbles beneath him. And soon Sarek is ash, just ash and fragments of bone and charred metal and stone. And soon Sarek is an urn, placed in a temple. And soon Sarek is gone, sealed behind thick stone doors.

And Spock is alone.

 

 II.

Spock stands before the glowing map on the screen, alone. He has to be alone for this. The moment he found the altered log entries, he knew that no one else could know his father's secrets. He sent T'Pring away. Sent his soldiers and strategists away.

And now, as the light fades and darkness falls out the window and Spock's head pounds with an ache he can't relieve, Spock wishes he could be spared the burden of this knowledge, too.

Pressing a button on his screen, Spock watches as the map alights with red dots, points on the planet they have already searched, and already failed to find Sybok's cloaked base.

Each dot glows like the eye of some great beast in the growing night, taunting him as it has for years. He thought they had tried every location. Every option. All this time, Spock believed Sarek’s assurances that they were doing everything they could.

But Spock calls up Sarek’s mission logs, and without a second glance at their lies, he deletes each altered entry. Each fabricated entry. He should have known, should have checked, but Sarek was in charge of overseeing planetary military operations. The far-off searches were his jurisdiction, not Spock's, and Spock would have been a poor son to have questioned his father's reports.

But dots on the map turn back to blue as he deletes each entry. The text above each of them reads “untested,” meaning unsearched. Meaning each dot represents lead after lead they never followed. Possibility after possibility they never perused -- at Sarek’s damned direction. Some dots disappear entirely, false leads Sarek sent Spock to chase after, always chastising his son when Spock returned empty-handed.

Sarek did not want to kill Sybok. Sarek didn't even want to find him. He went out of his way for years to pretend he did.

Maybe Sarek's weakness has never been humanity , but family.

Spock has no such weakness. He cannot allow himself to. And now he has nearly a hundred places he may search for Sybok’s hideout. It will take time, no doubt, but not nearly as much time as Sarek took. Spock will not let Sybok hide forever, and he will not let him run.

Spock will kill him with his own, bare hands. And he will be stronger than Sarek ever was.

 

III.

“You look tired, Sa-te’kru,” a voice says from behind him, and Spock turns from the ship’s window where the blue-orange strata of the morning sky streaks by. It is Stevek approaching behind him, fully outfitted in his armor like Spock, like the other warriors on this ship preparing themselves to land and search once again. Nearly two months they’ve gone on like this, checking each of Sarek's unfollowed leads, and there is still no sign of Sybok.

“Do not accuse me of weakness,” Spock says without venom, turning back to the window as Stevek comes up beside him. “I am fit to fight.”

“I did not say you weren’t,” Stevek replies. Out the corner of his eye, Spock watches Stevek’s eyes fall to his feet. “Have you slept?”

Spock scoffs, holds his hands tight behind his back. “No,” he says.

“There is time before we arrive. Your quarters are prepared, if you wish to lie down --”

“And you would join me, would you?” Spock asks harshly, facing him. Stevek straightens, his lips drawing tight.

“No,” Stevek says. “If only because you do not want me to.” Their eyes meet, and Spock wonders if his heartache is that obvious to everyone, or just obvious to his past lovers, the ones who have always known where his love truly lay. “You have never wanted me,” Stevek continues. “I do know this, sa-te'kru. You want me even less, now.”

Spock lets out a breath. To apologize is to show weakness, and he cannot show weakness to his soldiers. Even those who already see it in him. But he does owe Stevek more than he has given him. As he tries to find the words, Stevek shifts closer, tilting his head to catch Spock’s eyes. “I understand, Sa-te’kru,” he says softly. “ He is worthy of you.”

Spock brings a hand to Stevek’s arm, holding him gently in place, ensuring that Stevek can feel what Spock cannot speak aloud. “And you are worthy of more, ask’ersu,” he says. Stevek’s eyes shoot to his own, but Spock cannot let him speak. He releases Stevek’s arm, takes a step back. “Perhaps I should rest. You are … correct.”

Tension fades from Stevek’s face, and he nods. “Thank you, Sa-te’kru,” he says with the heavy weight of sincerity. Acceptance of the apology Spock didn’t voice.

Spock wishes, somewhere in a dark part of his heart, that he could take Stevek to bed again. Once, the hollow touch of another was the best way he knew to satisfy the ceaseless wanting Jim had left him with. But that was before Spock knew what Jim could be to him. What they could be to each other. With the ghost of Jim’s presence in Spock’s aching head, with Jim’s thoughts and emotions just out of reach of his own deprived mind, Spock could not fill this void with anyone else. He knows this.

And it has never been fair or right to treat his lovers as a stand-in for the other half of his soul.

“I will send someone to wake you before we arrive,” Stevek says softly.

Spock nods, his lungs unwilling to give him breath to speak. “Thank you, Stevek,” he manages to say.

It is enough.


IV.

The message arrives via a channel so heavily encrypted that even Shi’kahr’s best technicians are left scratching their heads over where it came from. And, of course, the moment it downloads in its entirety, it becomes impossible to even try to trace. It’s a short message, so their window is narrow -- and though Spock is disappointed, he cannot be surprised. Sybok would not risk revealing the location of his base just to gloat.

But it seems he also cannot stop himself from gloating. In honesty, Spock didn’t expect it to take four months for his brother to send such a message. Maybe Sybok had to spend time recovering from the siege. Maybe he just wanted Spock to find a false sense of security in his new role.

Now that Sybok has reached him, however, it doesn’t really matter why he sent the message, or when, or where from. What matters is what it contains. Spock has read it over and over again as he has sat here in the empty, echoing negotiation room, dataPADD clutched in his hand. He reads it again now; he can’t stop himself.

Do not get comfortable, Sybok writes. Do not get cocky. It took me seven years to kill our father, but he was a true warrior. A true leader. You simply stole your title from me, and more of your people deflect to the side of the true sa-te’kru every day. If they learn the truth of your birth, they will all join me. And if you continue your search for my base, I will ensure every Vulcan on this planet knows. What will they do then? Where will your armies go? Consider this next time you consult your precious map. I wish to meet you evenly matched, but I will use the information at my disposal if you push me.

Do not push me, brother.

Spock’s fingers clench tight around the PADD, fury rising in him. His ot-lan saw this message. Two clan leaders saw this message. Four technicians saw this message. The rumors will spread, and the validity of Spock’s birth and rule may be called into question if it reaches any farther. Sybok is insufferable when he’s right, and Spock can envision him now as if he’s seated across the table -- that sharp-toothed smile and his arms over his chest and a look on his face as if he has won .

With a growl, Spock hurls the PADD across the room, through the vision of his brother’s face, and it crashes, shatters into shards against the wall. But at the moment of impact, Spock’s eyes fall to the open door where T’Pring stands, her eyes wide.

“Sa-te’kru?” she asks cautiously. He puts a hand to his head, trying to ease the ache. Nothing eases the ache, and Sybok’s message has only worsened it.

“I tire of my brother’s games,” he snaps.

“As do we all,” T’Pring replies. She edges slowly into the room and the door slides shut behind her, leaving them alone in the echo. Eyes closed against the pain in his temples, Spock doesn’t look at her, but he hears her bare footsteps on the stone, and part of him can almost feel her concern as she approaches. They have always been connected, the two of them. Not the way he might connect to a lover, nor the way he has connected to Jim, but the way family finds instinctive understanding in each other. She can read him like few others can.

Though there are many seats to choose from around this seldom-used table, T’Pring settles intentionally into the cushion beside him. “We do not believe his claims.” The words sound clipped, abrupt, practical and informational. She knows better than to treat Spock with sympathy now. “He is a liar. He sends cowards to fight his battles. Only a fool would trust his words.”

Spock lifts his eyes to her, finally, and sees understanding there. “Then he has amassed an army of fools,” he says.

With a barking laugh, T’Pring smiles, her sharp canines glinting in the room’s low light. “Good! He has gathered them all in one place for us. This will be easy.”

Spock finds the strength to return her smile, and he straightens, trying to shed the weight of his brother’s words. “We must find him first,” Spock reminds her.

“That he still hides is only proof of his weakness,” T’Pring shoots back. “He knows he cannot face us. He knows he cannot face you .”

“Me,” Spock sighs, his voice hollow around the word. “I doubt it is me he fears.”

“He should,” T’Pring says harshly, and Spock nearly draws back at the tone of her voice, though he would not dare show his surprise. In the silence that grows between them, T’Pring’s faith in him -- unearned, though it may be -- is nearly palpable, even without touch.

Spock’s eyes fall to the table, unfocusing over the grains of stone. “I wish … to ask you a question,” he says slowly. “You are my most trusted warrior, and, I believe, a friend.”

T’Pring draws her back straight. “Thank you, Sa-te’kru,” she says.

He waves a hand, dismissing the gratitude. She knows she has earned his respect a hundred times over. “I have never sought your opinion on this matter. Until now, I did not believe I needed anyone’s opinion but my own. But I confess, I do not know which path to take.”

“If I may provide counsel, I will,” she says immediately. She does not judge him his weakness now, and she will not tell anyone that he has faltered. This is why Spock could ask no other.

“Terra has long wanted an alliance with our planet. Before my father’s death, I believed alliance to be a wise choice. Now that the decision is my own, I am uncertain. Do you believe our ask’er could use their aid?”

Beside him, T’Pring stiffens, but when he looks to her he sees her considering the question with as much weight as he could ask of her. “Perhaps,” she replies. “But I am a warrior. I do not deal in alliance. Such decisions are yours.”

That was not the answer he had hoped for. Perhaps sensing this, or seeing it in the thin, disappointed line of his lips, T’Pring lays a hand on the table in a gesture of strength, determination, fellowship. “But I may tell you,” she says, “that whatever you decide, your people will follow you.” He stares at her, unsure if he can believe her words except that T’Pring has never lied to spare another’s feelings. It is not her way.

“Whatever you decide,” T’Pring continues, slower as if weighing what she wants to say before it leave her lips. “Whether you ally with Terra, take a human prince as a lover -- whether there is any truth to Sybok’s claims about your birth --”

Spock draws back, but T’Pring’s eyes hold his own, hard. “We will follow you. We will kill for you, and we will die for you. We will also concede to peace for you. Sarek was our sa-te’kru, but you have been our leader for many years. This has not changed.”

The light around them begins to dim as, out the narrow windows, the sun continues its slow set into the horizon. And, in spite of himself, Spock believes her.

 

V.

Spock reaches across the cushions of his bed, laying a hand on the pillow. It’s cold, of course, but he could swear Jim was here beside him just a moment ago. He dreamed of Jim beside him. He dreamed they woke up together. He dreamed that his own red war paint rubbed off on the pillow where he had laid his head, a spot of it now smeared on Jim’s cheek. He dreamed of trying to thumb away the paint as Jim laughed, as Jim said next time they’d have to wash Spock’s hair before falling into bed.

“You would not have the patience for that,” Spock said to him, laughing if only because Jim was laughing, and he found so much comfort in Jim’s smile.

“You’re right,” Jim conceded. “I don’t even have the patience to wait until nightfall, most days. But, you know, if I start walking out of here with your war paint all over me, people might talk.”

Spock smiled, cupping Jim’s cheek, his red thumb drawing a line down to Jim’s jaw. “They may talk all they wish,” he said. He rolled onto Jim then, taking his lips in a kiss, delighting in the feeling of those hands running up his back and the feeling that Jim was marked by him somehow. Impermanent, fleeting, but his -- his for now. His here. His like this.

Spock seems to dream only in memory anymore, revisiting those moments that ease the ache in his heart and in his head, and he wonders if he has shared those dreams with Jim these last months. Because it’s moments like this, just on the edge of consciousness, that he can think clearly, feel clearly. These moments he feels as though Jim is within him and with him.

But the pillow is cold, and Spock lies alone in his bed, in his room, in an isolation he crafted for himself. And it has been five months. And it may be another five years. And as he does every day, Spock thinks of Jim -- where he is now, how he’s feeling now -- and he hopes Jim can feel the words he tries to send across their lightyears of distance. Connected, even now.

I am sorry, t’hy’la.

Chapter Text

Jim’s having dreams again, vivid images of hot sandstorms and cool, polished floors beneath his bare feet. He sees people — vague shadows in his mind — ducking behind rocks as they fire red blasts of phaser beams in his direction, one grazing his cheek. He dreams of a woman, draped head to toe in robes too hot for her, but disguising her blonde hair and rounded ears so she can embrace Jim. Her son. Jim isn’t her son.

He dreams of a bear-like creature, huge and imposing as it stalks toward him with its fangs bared, its tail whipping behind it, but as the beast tackles him to the ground and he buries his face in his fur, he recognizes this animal as a friend, a pet. I-Chaya. He shouldn’t know that name.

He dreams of a man, a human man with dark golden hair and bright hazel eyes smiling in the light of early morning with a smear of red war paint on his cheek.

These are all the past. He dreams in present, too. He sees Sarek’s body carried toward a towering temple as Vulcans bow their heads in mourning and someone at the head of the procession plays haunting music on his lyre.

He sees the city of Shi’kahr, its streets full and quiet and restless. No one is dancing in the marketplace. He sees his soldiers lined up in rows, ready to comb the desert for a hideout they haven’t been able to find in years and won’t find now. He feels the despair at the realization, and the determination to try anyway.

And each morning when Jim wakes up, when he sifts through Spock’s memories and moments and experiences, he has to hold his head in his hands to steady the swimming world around him. He has to breathe through the splitting pain that shoots like lightning through his mind.

And he has to move on as he has moved on for five unbearable months. To keep going as is expected of him, to pretend that there isn’t a hole in his head aching to be filled. To pretend, even, that the pain is caused by something else. Anything else.

 


 

The sound of the medical scanner whirrs over his head, and Jim is pretty sure it’s making the headache worse — if that’s even possible. He sits on the edge of the biobed, eyes closed while McCoy, the court physician, tutts and huffs around him.

“Well?” Jim asks impatiently, tapping his fingers on the bed. He doesn’t mean to snap at the doctor, really, but he’s so tired of the pain in his skull he can’t help but lash out. This headache has only grown worse over the months, coming and going in periods of agony followed by periods of brief relief that aren’t so much an absence of pain as a lessening.

The scanner shuts off, and Jim opens his eyes to meet McCoy’s. He looks concerned, but that’s his default expression — or maybe he’s just perpetually concerned about Jim. “Far as I can tell, your highness,” McCoy says, “you’re fit as a fiddle. You sure the pain ain’t just in your head?”

Jim rolls his eyes. “Of course it’s in my head. It’s a headache.”

“Har har,” McCoy mocks gently, tucking the scanner into his pocket. “I mean to say, you sure it’s not just stress? You get stress headaches plenty — have since I’ve been treating you, at least.”

That much is true, but Jim knows the difference between this and the usual throbbing in his temples when he’s tense. His silence makes McCoy sigh, and the doctor takes a seat beside him. “It’s not like you don’t have reason to be stressed out,” he says, patting Jim’s back. “The Klingons, the Vulcans. Heck, even I get headaches about it all.”

“I don’t think it’s that,” Jim says, rubbing his forehead. “Things have been tense with the Klingons for years, and the Vulcans —“ he pauses, wincing slightly. “Well, looks like things might be tense with the Vulcans for a while.” McCoy drums on his thigh for a moment, looking anywhere but Jim, and Jim sighs. “It’s okay,” Jim says, “you can talk about it. I’m not going to spontaneously combust, and it’s not as if I can even pretend everyone doesn’t already know.”

With a sideways look, McCoy shrugs. “I ain’t here to judge your taste in men,” he says, and Jim gives him a skeptical look. Over the ten or so years that McCoy has graduated from physician to grudging friend, he has judged Jim’s taste in men — and women, and other-gendered folks — pretty frequently. “But if these headaches are ‘cause of stress then you sure didn’t do yourself any favors sleeping with a Vulcan prince.”

With a long-suffering sigh, Jim falls back on the bed. His hand returns to his forehead, exerting a little pressure as if it might do anything about the pain. “I’m well aware. Thank you, doctor,” he says only a little bitterly. “In retrospect it may not have been the best decision of my life. Did you know their royal majesties kicked me off diplomatic missions ‘indefinitely’?”

McCoy chuckles. “Can ya blame them, Jim? You’re a great ambassador most of the time, but diplomacy doesn’t usually involve getting caught in bed with the leader of the opposing planet.”

It’s Jim’s turn to laugh now. The irony that Sarek agreed to the armistice 36 years ago because he was sleeping with Earth’s ambassador is not lost on Jim. But, of course, Jim won’t say that aloud. He has kept his promise to Spock, and kept that information to himself. No matter how much he wants to talk about it with some listening ear. “Well, you know, traditional tactics weren’t working,” he jokes lamely. “Can’t blame me for trying to do something different.”

“That isn’t why you slept with him, though,” McCoy says, as if he knows. But he does know Jim well. He’d understand that political power would’ve been the last thing to get him to hop into bed with someone.

“No,” Jim confirms anyway. “That’s not why I slept with him.” The heartache is familiar now, after so many months. But, like his headache, that doesn’t mean it’s any less painful.

“He didn’t do anything to your head, did he?” McCoy asks suddenly, shifting to face Jim. Jim leans up on his elbows to meet his eyes. “Vulcans are supposed to have telepathy, right? Could he have, oh, I don’t know — gone messing around in there when you weren’t looking?”

“Expert on Vulcan telepathy are you?” Jim jokes, though the cold fist of certainty closes over his heart. Even walking into McCoy’s office today, he knew it was the bond that was doing it. He just wishes McCoy had proved him wrong.

“Granted,” McCoy says, “I don’t know more than rumors, but you might send him a message, just to make sure he ain’t done anything to you.”

Jim scoffs, falling back onto the bed. “Sure. I’ll just write him a letter. ‘Dear Spock, I know your father died recently and your brother is trying to kill you and there’s that whole rebellion thing going on, but you mind telling me how to make my annoying headaches go away?’”

Sighing, McCoy flops back on the bed beside Jim, tossing his hands in the air. “It’s worth a try.”

Jim shakes his head. “It’s not,” he says. “And I’m barred from contacting him anyway. This isn’t just an ex-boyfriend situation.” The throb in his temples pounds anew and Jim screws his eyes shut. “It’s the fate of the entire quadrant. I’m a ‘liability to interplanetary relations’ now.”

McCoy lets out a long, deep sigh, and Jim figures he’s got the spirit of the moment right. They lay there together in companionable silence for a few seconds, Jim grateful for the company as much as he’s grateful for the quiet. Everything has been so loud since he returned from Vulcan. Loud and lonely and too much and not enough and every awful thing in between.

But after a while, McCoy rolls off the bed, and though Jim’s eyes are closed he hears his friend stand and move around the room. He doesn’t bother looking. He could fall asleep here — wouldn’t be the first time — and maybe wake up feeling a little bit better.

Before even the suggestion of sleep can take him, something rattles, drawing Jim’s attention back toward McCoy. When Jim turns his head and cracks open his eyes, he sees McCoy by the bedside, holding a little bottle of red pills. “What’s that? Cure-all for telepathy-induced ailments?” Jim asks. McCoy scoffs and tosses the bottle at him, but Jim barely manages to catch it in his fumbling hands.

“That should help with the headache,” McCoy says. “But I dunno what’ll help with the rest of it. I’m a doctor, not a diplomat.”

Jim smirks. “Yeah, I know. But I’ll take a doctor over a diplomat these days. Might even quit politics, myself.” He slips the bottle into his pocket and forces himself to sit up once again. His head swims with the effort.

“I’m pretty sure you don’t have a choice in that one,” McCoy reminds him. “You got fired from politics.”

Rubbing his head, Jim sighs. “Thanks for the reminder.”

“Anytime.”

“And the pills.”

McCoy gives him a short smile. “Now if those don’t—”

A sound chirps from Jim’s back pocket, and they both startle, Jim shifting to pull out his communicator. It’s rare anyone sends him a message — practically everyone he knows, he sees daily in the palace.

“That your boyfriend?” McCoy asks.

“My brother,” Jim corrects him, flipping open the comm and running his eyes down the screen. “Says I have to go meet with him and the king and queen — now.”

“Why?”

Jim shrugs, reading on. “Big news, emergency call … quick as you can…” — and one word jumps out of the screen at him, flashing in his eyes like a strobe light. “ Shit !” Jim shouts, launching himself off the bed and stuffing the communicator back in his pocket. “Shit, I have to go.”

Without a second thought, he runs toward the door, flying past McCoy like a racecar across a finish line.

“Jim! What —”

“Sybok,” Jim shouts over his shoulder, as if in farewell, and he’s out the door before McCoy can even respond.

 


 

Jim doesn’t know what he expected Sybok to look like. He supposed Sarek's firstborn son might have some of the late sa-te'kru’s characteristics — that serious, deeply wrinkled profile and wide nostrils flared in distaste — or he might look more like Spock — handsome but fierce in his own way, with a pair of gently curled lips. But the bearded face smiling from the screen in Terra’s secret strategizing room looks relaxed, genial even, and holds none of the fiery certainty of his family members.

The Terran royal family sits on one side of a long table, staring at the screen. According to Sam's message, Sybok requested all four of them, with no advisors present, and Jim was of course the last to arrive. Moments ago, he walked into a perfectly silent room, heavy with the weight of decisions yet to be made.

As Jim settles down in his seat, eyes fixed to the screen, Sam sits straight and tall beside him, emulating their father’s posture. George and Winona are holding hands under the table, out of Sybok’s view, the only sign that either of them are nervous.

“I’m glad you’re all here — finally,” Sybok says, raking his eyes over them. He’s sitting in front of a black backdrop, likely for secrecy’s sake, and Jim doesn’t even want to know how many encryptions he’s put on this channel to secure it. If there were any clues to his base’s location in this call, he would never have risked it. “I understand the young prince has been the primary diplomat in charge of forming an alliance with my dearly departed father and my brother, unfortunately not yet departed himself,” he continues. “So you can see why I needed all of you present.”

“Actually,” Winona says, clearly not put off by Sybok’s confident smile. “Since you haven’t told us anything yet, we really can’t ‘see.’ If you could please get straight to business?”

Sybok’s smile widens. “Of course, Your Majesty,” he says, and he leans back in his seat, arms over his chest. “Straight to business, then. I have contacted you in order to offer you what my father would not, and what my brother will not.”

Jim straightens, his shoulders squaring. He doesn’t risk a look at his family, but rather keeps his eyes hard on Sybok’s. Everyone else seems to be staring at him, too, and Jim isn’t sure if Sybok’s intentions have become clear to them as they have to Jim. Jim thinks, ridiculously, that he should have seen this coming.

In the silence, Sybok laughs. “I want to offer you an alliance,” he clarifies. “With the planet Vulcan.”

“You aren’t sa-te’kru of Vulcan,” Jim says without thinking, and everyone’s eyes turn immediately to him. “You have no power to —”

“James,” Sam interrupts in a low hiss, and Jim lets out an exasperated breath.

“No, no,” Sybok says, holding up a hand. “It’s quite alright. He is correct. I’m not the sa-te’kru of Vulcan. That title belongs to my brother, as Prince James is no doubt aware. From what I understand, he has become intimately familiar with Vulcan … politics.”

Jim’s eyes narrow, and he feels the weight of his family’s disappointment on his shoulders. Of course Sybok would know about the rumors. Hell, if he knows Spock, he probably knows better than most that they aren’t rumors at all.

“So,” Winona says harshly, clearly electing to ignore the reminder of her ambassador’s indiscretions. “You aren’t sa-te’kru. How then do you propose to offer us an alliance?”

“I’m thrilled you asked,” Sybok says. “Consider it a promise. If you help me depose my brother, if you help secure my place on Vulcan’s throne, I will give you everything. The cloaking device you want so much, free travel through Vulcan space, every resource and weapon we have. And you can have my forces — armies of warriors trained to fight to the death — if the Klingons ever attack. Or if you decide to strike them before they can.”

The temperature in the room seems to drop immediately, and though Jim fears his family’s reactions, he can’t help turning to them fast as a whiplash. George and Winona are looking to each other, as if trying to find answers in the other’s eyes. Sam is staring straight at the screen, and though most wouldn’t be able to decipher his forcibly neutral expression, Jim can see straight through it.

“When you say ‘depose’ your brother,” Sam tests, not letting on either excitement or revulsion. “What do you mean?”

Sybok waves a dismissive hand. “Oh, I don’t care,” he says jovially. “Kill him, capture him, exile him to Andor. Whatever pleases you. I understand you aren’t too keen on spilling blood these days.”

Jim can’t stay quiet. Not now. “We can’t ally with you,” he says, standing, slamming his hands on the table. “We won’t .”

“Damn it, James!” George shouts. He leaps to his feet too, and Jim wonders for a moment if he might drag Jim by the ear out of the room like some petulant child, rather than the diplomat they have trained him to be. But stopping this before it starts is worth any punishment. Besides, what else could they possibly do to him?

“No,” Jim shouts, slicing a hand through the air. “This man ordered the death of his own father in cold blood, in the dead of night. Like some kind of coward . And you’d actually consider allying with him ?”

Sybok gives Jim an amused little grin, like he’s a dog standing on his hind legs. “You sound just like Spock,” he says with a little chuckle. “But, though it helps my cause for Spock to believe I am a coward, I do not wish my potential allies to think such unflattering things of me. So, I will tell you the truth. I killed my father face-to-face. I told him I was coming. I handed him a weapon. I gave him every opportunity to fight back, and he refused. He allowed me to drive a knife into his chest rather than risk killing his own son. I am not responsible for Sarek’s weakness, nor am I responsible for Spock’s.”

“You—” Jim can’t quite believe it, but there’s a quiet light of certainty in Sybok’s eyes, and he has no reason to lie, does he? Not to them. And, aside from that, Jim can believe it of Sarek. Sarek never wanted to kill Sybok, not really. Even Jim had been able to figure that out, so of course Sybok would have realized it, too. He took advantage of it, as any Vulcan would.

If weaknesses are known, they will be exploited. Spock told him that. As Jim flounders for words, he feels the weight of Sybok’s gaze, smug and self-important.

“We will need to discuss your proposal amongst ourselves,” George speaks up, clearly wrestling his own surprise. “You understand why we cannot make a decision right away.”

“Of course,” Sybok says. “I will comm you on this channel in exactly three Earth days. Should you refuse my generous offer, or fail to make a decision, I will go to the Klingons and secure their alliance.”

“What?” Sam bellows, and now they’re all on their feet, Sam’s hands flat on the table as he leans toward the screen. A cold grip of fear closes around Jim’s heart.

Sybok looks incredibly, infuriatingly unconcerned. “The Klingons would make short work of my brother in exchange for the cloaking device that could help them destroy Earth's forces. But I can’t say I trust them entirely. Terrans, at least, are good for their word. I’d prefer to ally with you, but I’m not above taking my second choice.”

There’s a cold glint of steel in his eyes, and Jim swallows. None of them seem to know what to say.

“Well,” Sybok says, looking entirely satisfied with himself for striking Terra’s entire royal family speechless. “We’ll talk again in three days. I’ve waited years for this and I’m not content to wait much longer.”

With that, the channel goes dead, the screen goes black, and the four of them are left in a suffocating silence. Jim can’t imagine what the others are thinking, but all he sees in his mind’s eye is Spock, that familiar body painted and splattered with the sickly green of his blood — a vision that has appeared to him a thousand times since Sarek’s death but has never been as clear as it is now. If Sybok allies with the Klingons, that vision will become a near certainty. Spock couldn’t fight that battle alone.

But the alternative, agreeing to an alliance with Sybok, is unthinkable . Especially knowing as Jim does in his heart that Sybok would betray them the moment he was able. That was the reason for his rebellion, wasn't it? Sarek went too easy on Earth. Sybok would destroy them.

And it is this thought that forces Jim to speak first. “We can’t,” he chokes, turning immediately to his family. “We can’t . You heard him. He killed Sarek. He could kill Spock .”

“You have no say in this decision,” Winona snaps. “In case you’ve forgotten, you’re no longer our ambassador to the planet Vulcan, and there’s a very clear conflict of interest—”

“Conflict of interest?!” Jim shouts, tossing his hands in the air. “Is that what you call recognizing that we don’t want to ally with a murderer and a traitor? Spock is the rightful ruler of Vulcan —”

“Technically,” Sam interrupts, tapping his chin, entirely unfazed by Jim’s ire. “Sybok is Sarek’s firstborn son. He would be sa-te’kru if he hadn’t rebelled.”

“Yes,” Jim says, “’if he hadn’t rebelled.’ That’s a big caveat there, Sam.”

George steps in, leveling his hands. “James,” he says, “the queen is right. You’re biased in this situation, and we need to treat Sybok’s offer with as much consideration as we would treat any offer of alliance.”

“Why?” Jim asks. “I feel like I’m going insane here. How can you be considering this when Spock —”

Spock could die , his mind fills in as his lips refuse to speak the words. Spock could be killed and that hollow, aching hole in your head, in your heart will never be filled again. Spock could die and all the fiery beauty of him would fade like a star blinking out of existence and—

“We won’t let anything happen to Spock,” Winona says, coming forward and resting a hand on Jim’s shoulder. “Even if we choose to ally with Sybok, we will ensure no harm comes to him.”

“Except stripping him of his title, his home, his home planet ,” Jim argues, shaking her off.

“Jim,” Sam says, glancing to his parents for support. “You need to stop thinking like Spock’s — Spock’s friend , and start thinking like a diplomat. What’s the smartest move for Terra? What decision can we come to, knowing what we do about Vulcan, that will help us come out on top?”

“How is that all that matters to you?” Jim says, the anger fleeing him as his shoulders fall. The headache is worse now, pounding as if someone’s fist is slamming against the door of his mind.

“How doesn’t it matter to you?” Sam asks, and all three of them give Jim a pitying kind of look.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. Sybok hates Earth. He can't possibly be our best option. He'll betray us the second he has a chance.”

“Nothing has been decided,” Winona assures him. “Samuel, call the advisors. James, I think you should sit this out.”

“Excuse me?” Jim says flatly.

George and Winona share a look. “Prince James,” George says, the title sounding forced. “We need objectivity in this decision. You don’t have that right now. Whatever happened between you and Spock —”

“You know what happened between us,” Jim snaps. “We… we got close. And I got to know him.” He stops himself short from saying that he can feel what Spock feels, see him when he closes his eyes. They can’t know that, no matter how powerful a card that may be to play. “I know him. And I know he just needs time —”

“Time,” George echoes. “Like Sarek needed time? We can’t wait another 30 years for that cloaking device, while the Klingons get bolder every day. And we can’t even wait three days for Spock to agree to ally with us. Sybok may be our best choice. But we need people familiar with the planet, with the conflict, to help us make this decision.”

“Like me?” Jim asks, eyes narrowed.

“Like our advisors,” Winona corrects him. “Please leave us to talk this through, Prince James.”

He meets his brother’s eyes, then his father’s, then returns his gaze to Winona. All three look resolute. They’re treating him like a child throwing a tantrum.

He can’t influence them. They’ve never respected him as a diplomat and Jim's recent mistakes have driven a nail in that coffin. They respect him even less now. All because he fell in love with —

With the one person he should never have loved, and the only person he could.

Jim turns on his heel and stalks out the door without another word.

 


 

This is a terrible idea. Jim has been repeating as much to himself for the last two hours, but he’s used to having bad ideas when it comes to Spock, just as he’s used to following through with them. Someone smarter, more cautious, might allow Earth’s monarchs to make their own informed decision on the subject of Sybok’s offer for alliance. But Jim isn’t cautious. He takes risks. Sometimes, he takes big ones. This might be a big one, but he likely won’t know until it is too late.

It’s already too late.

He stands now on the dusty white sand of Ocean Beach, a cap on his head and his collar up against the chill sea wind blowing past as he stares numbly at the choppy waves. Out of his finery, he’s not immediately recognizable as the prince of Terra, for which he’s thankful — as he’s thankful for the storm rolling in over the bay. The churning, flashing promise held in those silver clouds has scared away any beachgoers brave enough to bear the cold water this time of year. But the one person he wants to find him won’t be afraid of a little rain. He sent her a frantic message mere minutes after stalking out of the meeting room, and she promised to come as quickly as she could. Thank God she still lives in San Francisco.

Now, Jim waits for her, and watches the oncoming storm without seeing it.

Instead, he’s seeing Spock in his mind’s eye. Spock, unaware of his brother’s machinations, reading reports on a dataPADD, speaking quietly with T’Pring. Spock standing in front of a map on a screen and rubbing his head in frustration. Spock out in the desert, staring over sand dunes as Jim stares over the ocean, each of them looking for something they can’t find.

Jim tries not to think about Spock. He tries to think about Sybok — that smug grin that holds none of the kindness, the gentle intelligence or the undercurrent of playfulness that Jim always sees in Spock’s own smile. And, to distract him further, he tries to think about the half-formed plan in his head, and the recklessness his parents have always decried as his worst political trait.

But Vulcans are reckless, and maybe in order to work with them  Terra needs to be more reckless, too. Jim can only hope that’s the case.

Jim doesn’t hear her approach with the wind whipping past his ears, but when a figure in a dark coat draws up beside him he knows immediately who she is. Instead of turning to her, he looks down, almost in deference, though she is the one who defers to him.

“Your highness,” she says quietly, voice carried away on the wind. Jim smiles without feeling it.

“Ambassador Grayson,” he says.

She lets out a musical little chuckle, a charming sound that eases the tension in Jim’s shoulders. “You know as well as anyone I’m not an ambassador anymore,” she says. “Please call me Amanda.”

Nodding, Jim looks back to the sea. “Amanda, then. Thank you for coming.”

“It sounded like there was no time to spare,” she says, and Jim finally glances to her. She looks as he remembers her from long-ago court meetings, when he was still a child hoping to learn all he could of his planet and their neighbors. But the bright blonde hair of her youth is gone, gray now and whisping in the wind, and she wears her wrinkles with the elegance Jim would expect of a woman who has accomplished as much as she has.

“It is urgent,” Jim says quietly. “And I know — well, I know you might not want to talk about this, but I need your help.”

She nods, her eyes unfocusing somewhere out in the distance, as far away as another galaxy. “Is it about Sarek?” she asks softly.

Swallowing, he wishes he had better words for what he wants to convey. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he says. “Sarek — I think he was a good man.”

“He was,” she says, voice wavering slightly. “Best I ever knew. He’d never let on, but he was so gentle , James. And he loved me very much.” A beat passes, and she looks to him, her eyes bright blue and swimming — churning like the sea. “Did Spock tell you, then? About us?”

“He did, but I haven’t shared it with anyone. He asked me not to.”

Amanda lets out a wet little laugh, putting the back of her hand to her mouth as if to stifle the sound. “It hardly matters now,” she says, and Jim realizes it might not have been a laugh at all. Tears are threatening to fall from her eyes, the wind whipping her hair in front of her face as if to hide it for her. “I’m not an ambassador anymore, and Sarek is —” Her voice chokes, and Jim’s heart aches for her.

“It matters to Spock,” he says, and her eyes turn to Jim’s again.

“You two must be close for him to have confided in you,” she says softly. “Closer than the tabloids suggest, at least.” She gives him a little, tremulous smile, somehow lessening the sting of the headlines Jim’s been avoiding since news of his and Spock’s relationship trickled out of the palace and into the public.

“We are,” Jim answers. “Or, were. We … want to be.” In her eyes, he sees what he would normally consider pity. But it can only be empathy, coming from Amanda Grayson. She must know this feeling well.

“Is that why you need my help?” She asks.

“No, no,” Jim says, waving a hand and glancing back to the sea. “It’s bigger than that. Bigger than me and Spock. I can’t explain everything, but I need to get in touch with him, you see.”

To Jim’s surprise, she leans over, nudging him with her shoulder almost playfully. “Can’t you just give him a call?” she asks. When he looks to her once more, she’s smiling like she wants to be happy but doesn’t know how anymore.

“Not with this,” Jim says apologetically. “For one, my parents will know if anyone tries sending a transmission to Vulcan from inside the palace. And, well. I’ve been disallowed from contacting him.”

Amanda’s mouth forms a little ‘o’ and she nods in sudden understanding. “Of course you have. That sounds like George — his royal majesty , I mean.”

Jim huffs a kind of humorless laugh. “And then there’s the fact that I can’t trust that the call won’t be intercepted. And, Amanda … no one can know that I’m meeting with him.”

Her eyebrows shoot up into her hair — it’s a familiar look, and Jim wonders if Spock got it from her. “I thought you just wanted to get in touch. You plan to meet with him?”

“I do,” Jim says on a strained exhale. “If he’ll see me. I have a plan, and I need his help. I need to help him .”

“So why do you need me?” Amanda asks, but not unkindly.

“Because you visited Sarek and Spock in secret for years,” Jim answers with sudden urgency. “Without anyone catching on. You visited them on Vulcan and coordinated places for your ships to meet out in space. How did you do it without anyone finding out?”

Amanda’s eyes, weighed still with grief, hold Jim’s own. “Oh sweetie,” she says gently, dropping Jim's title. It makes her feel more human, somehow. “I’m so sorry.”

“Why?” Jim asks, turning fully to her.

She mirrors his movement, though her gaze drifts away from Jim’s face. “Sarek and I,” she says gently, “we have — we had — well, it had to do with Vulcan telepathy. A bond, formed in secret before Spock was born. We could communicate, in our own way, over long distances. Not with words, but with impressions and emotions. I’d project where I was going to be, and he’d receive that message. And I could feel him.” She takes in a shaky breath. “All the time, I could feel him, and he could feel me. Even when we were apart, even when he —” Shaking her head, she heaves a heavy, intentional breath and swallows back the words. “The point is, there’s no way to replicate a bond like that,” she admits. “Certainly not with Spock on Vulcan right now.”

Jim feels relief sink deep into his bones and he wilts slightly, hand coming to his incessantly aching head. “We are bonded,” he says quickly. “It was an accident, and I’m not sure if it’s strong enough, or if it’s solid or fading or whatever it is, but I can — I can feel him.”

Her eyes widen. “You’ve — you’ve bonded? How? It was an accident ?”

Looking into Amanda’s eyes, Jim recalls that Spock said he didn't think a bond was possible without a healer. Amanda must have had the same assumption. “We melded,” Jim explains, “the night before — well, before I left. He said our minds didn’t want to let go.”

“You said you can feel him,” Amanda says quickly, a hand coming to Jim's arm. “What does it feel like?”

Jim rubs his forehead, nursing that now familiar ache. “It’s mostly when I’m dreaming, I can see where he is, what he’s doing, or I dream in his memories. I can feel how he’s feeling. During the day it’s harder, but sometimes if I close my eyes I can almost tell you where he is. I swear it’s not my imagination.”

“No, of course it isn’t,” she says, gripping his arm. “That's a bond . It’s still young, and you haven’t been near each other to settle into it — Sarek and I couldn't bear to be apart for a week after we bonded. But if you can feel him, then I can try to help you open up to him.”

“What do you mean ‘open up?’” Jim asks as a cold breeze rushes past. Out over the water, a low rumble of thunder sounds.

Amanda sighs and rubs her own forehead, as if recalling the feeling of a bond five months severed. Jim can't even imagine how that must feel, and he doesn’t want to find out. He can’t bear to find out. “When you’re asleep, all your walls are down, so the impressions flow more freely,” Amanda says quietly, “but during the waking hours, we all instinctively shield ourselves, at least somewhat. Have you been having headaches?”

“Yes,” Jim answers. “Splitting ones.”

“I see,” she says. “Has Spock?”

Jim draws back a little. “I — I don't know. He's in pain, I can feel that much, but —” he pauses, and continues almost apologetically. “But he’s been in pain since Sarek, and I don't know what's physical and what's emotional.”

Amanda's eyes contain wells of grief, but she was an ambassador for decades, and she knows how to push through challenges. Jim is grateful for that.

“Alright, your highness. We need to find somewhere quiet, safe, where no one will walk in on us or think to find us. I’ll help you however I can.”

Reaching out, Jim grips her hand and squeezes. “Thank you, Amanda,” he says sincerely. “I’m sorry for bringing this up, I know you’re grieving but — “

“Prince James,” she says gently, “Spock is all I have left of the man I loved. If this will help him, I’ll do whatever it takes. Now, do you have anywhere we can go?”

“I think so,” he says, and his chest lurches out a wan kind of laugh that doesn’t have the humor he wishes it could. “Though it might take a little bit of convincing.”

“You and I have both been ambassadors to the most volatile planet in the quadrant, aside from Qo'noS,” Amanda reminds him. “I think we can handle a little convincing.”

 


 

“And you ain’t gonna tell me why you need to commandeer my examination room?” McCoy asks in his usual gruff drawl, arms crossed over his chest as Jim pats his shoulder, trying to usher him out of the room without looking too ungrateful.

“Sorry,” Jim says with a resigned shrug. “But we can’t tell anyone. If we could, you’d be the first to know.”

McCoy glances to Amanda then back to Jim, then to Amanda again, who is sitting on the biobed and smiling softly at him, an ethereal glow about her in the bright shine of the examination room's light. McCoy seems to find confidence in her expression more than Jim's. “Well I’m a damn fool for going along with this, but you do what you gotta. I’ll make sure no one comes in.”

“Thank you,” Jim says sincerely. “And make sure no one knows we’re here, either. My family might be looking for me.”

McCoy waves him away. “I know, I know. Utmost secrecy and all.” He mimes zipping his lips shut and flicking away a key.

“This is good of you, Leonard,” Amanda says. “And it is good to see you again.”

McCoy’s cheeks turn a shade of red Jim hasn’t ever seen on him before, almost plummy, and it makes Jim grin in spite of everything. “Ah, you too, Ambassador,” McCoy says. “Don’t have too much fun now.”

With that, he walks out the door and it slides shut behind him. He wonders briefly what McCoy might imagine they’re up to in here, but his friend is a smart man. He must know this has to do with Vulcan. He probably knows it has to do with Spock.

But Jim will have to thank McCoy more thoroughly later for his understanding, his patience. Right now, he’s running out of time.

“Alright,” he says as he turns back to Amanda. “What do I need to do?”

Amanda shifts and crosses her legs on the bed, gesturing to the spot in front of her. “Take a seat, just like me.”

Without hesitation, Jim crosses the room to the bed and clamors a little inelegantly onto it, moving to mirror Amanda to the best of  his ability. She has her back straight, her hands on her knees, looking gentle and expectant.

When Jim settles into place, wiggling his shoulders to get comfortable, she smiles softly at him.

“Okay,” he sighs. “What next?”

“Breathe,” she says, “first and foremost. Have you ever meditated before?”

“No,” Jim admits. “I’m not very good at, ah, turning this off.” He taps his head with a little smile, and Amanda returns it sweetly.

“Well, good news is you don’t have to turn it off entirely. Close your eyes and focus on your breath, nothing else, alright? Tell me when you feel relaxed.”

“Oh of course, it should be easy to relax, right?” Jim asks with a desperate chuckle, but he obeys. His eyes fall shut, and he forces a deep inhale. “Threat of interplanetary war,” he says on the exhale, “talking to my ex via telepathic mystery bond, disobeying all my family's orders and wishes…” The list is hardly exhaustive, but Jim is mostly joking about the weight of it. He may see Spock again soon, and that helps lessen the worry creeping into his gut.

Amanda seems to understand. “Just remember that you’re doing what you have to do for Spock,” she says. “We all need to be calm in crisis.”

Jim nods and tries to focus on his breathing intently now. Truth be told, his mind wanders a little as he inhales and exhales, inhales and exhales, but eventually he sets up a slow, steady rhythm. The rapid pound of his heart slows, too, and the breath comes easier after a while.

“Okay,” he says after a few minutes. “What now?”

“Now,” she says, her voice quiet and far away, “think about Spock. But don’t just think about him. Remember how he felt in your mind and try to recreate that feeling as best you can.”

It’s hard to do with the ache in his head, but Jim tries. He remembers those first few melds, the shallow connection where Jim could feel every movement of Spock’s body and every movement of his own, every spike of pleasure and wave of relief, the way Spock’s mind lapped against his like waves on a shore. He remembers begging Spock deeper, when he didn’t even know what the word meant or how it would feel. He remembers Spock’s hand against his face and Jim’s hand against Spock’s, blue in the evening light as Spock moved in to kiss him, as everything that was Spock sank into him. He remembers the way they swirled around each other until they became each other, woven together like a tapestry. He exhales.

“Good,” Amanda says, even quieter. “Now reach for him.”

“How?” Jim asks.

“Think of your connection as if it's a string,” Amanda replies. “Take all of that feeling and tie it into a thread, visualize it flying through space, toward Vulcan. Visualize it finding him. You’ll know where he is.”

Jim tries. He imagines a thread rising from the depths of his mind where he feels Spock’s soul; he imagines it breaking through his skull, through the ceiling, hurtling into the clouds and well past them, creating an arc as if shot by an arrow as it speeds toward its destination. It flies into the atmosphere of Vulcan, and Jim feels — sees — the ground approaching. The thread winds through the air, slips through the roof of the palace and searches. Spock. Where is Spock?

His question finds answer immediately. Spock stands now in front of a holographic map, a globe that must be Vulcan. He’s alone, his head in his hand as he taps the map and another glowing red dot appears. Another failed lead. He’ll never find Sybok at this rate. He’ll never dig him out at this rate. And his head is aching so much he can’t even think where to look next, what to do next. He’s tired, he’s lonely, he’s a maelstrom of grief and fury and he’s missing —

Jim?

Spock , Jim feels himself reply. Or, it’s a kind of reply. He doesn’t know if the word reaches Spock, but the feeling must. The feeling of returning to port after months at sea, the feeling of connection both of them craved for years, finally found, and denied once it finally existed between them.

Spock lifts his head, closes his eyes, and Jim feels Spock’s thoughts opening for him, letting him in, the thread finding berth in Spock’s own mind as the room melts away and it's just them and their own minds meeting — as if standing before each other in a dark void. Unable to touch each other, and yet, closer than any two people could ever be.

The feeling of Spock inside his mind purges Jim’s headache as if he’s just plunged into soothing, cool water, and Jim thinks he must choke on the breath of relief that heaves his chest.

Spock , he thinks again, and feels Spock’s essence curling around him, wrapping him as if in an embrace. Jim wants to drown in this feeling, Spock’s mind as comfortable as his own, more comfortable than being on his own.

I need to see you . He doesn’t know if Spock can hear the words, but Spock can always hear his intentions. That was true before the bond, before they even melded. Spock has always known what Jim wants.

No , Spock responds, or the feeling of ‘no’ enters Jim’s mind. He gets an impression of danger, of worry, of a bone-deep fear that makes Spock’s knees weak.

Not on Vulcan , Jim thinks, and he forces himself to think about where he wants to meet him. Coordinates jut on the edge of Vulcan space, where no one will think twice about a Vulcan cruiser flying solo. He tries to project his urgency. Tries to make Spock understand his desperation.

And Spock does understand. When?

Now.

Now.

Now.

Why?

Jim doesn’t know how to answer that. Without intention, Sybok’s face pops into his mind, and the recalled anger of their earlier meeting floods him. He feels the fury spreading through his veins, the fear that he won’t be able to stop what’s to come without Spock’s help. That Spock won’t be able to stop it without Jim’s. The certainty that they need each other, even if Spock will deny it because Spock always denies it, denies Jim. No matter the games of resistance they used to play, Spock has been the one pulling away all this time, and as angry as Jim is at Sybok and the rebellion and his parents and the universe, there’s a part of him that’s angry at Spock, too. His thoughts begin to run like rabbits darting down garden paths, losing control of his message and what he meant to say and what he wants to say because there is so much Spock needs to know .

Spock soothes him, his consciousness twining into Jim’s and unpicking the tangles of his fears, and Jim feels that he understands, at least, how important this is.

Now, then , Jim thinks he hears. I will leave at once.

Thank you, Jim tries to convey. Gratitude and, in spite of everything, an anticipation he can’t contain at the thought of seeing Spock again. He missed him so much.

I missed you so much.

A similar feeling vibrates within Spock, a warm desire for the simple sight of Jim’s face, but as Jim absorbs that feeling and feels himself falling into it, the thread of connection between them snaps, and Jim gasps as his eyes fly open.

Blinking into the fluorescent light of McCoy’s examination room, Jim sees Amanda sitting before him, her lips downturned. He forgot she was there. He forgot where he was. Somehow the dark void of his thoughts felt more real than the bed underneath him, the woman across from him, even his own body .

“Are you alright?” she asks softly, and Jim lays a hand on his pounding heart. He laughs something relieved, nervous, like a teapot letting out spurts of steam.

“I missed him,” he says, and lifts his eyes to her. There’s a sad gleam in them, like she knows. Like she understands. She may be the only one in the galaxy who does. “He’s a stubborn ass, isn’t he? But I missed him.”

“Then you’d better go see him,” she says, laying a hand on Jim’s knee. “I wish I could go with you.”

Jim smiles sadly and lays his hand over hers, squeezing her fingers. Staring at her, Jim sees her as she once was. Bright eyes and an elegant bouffant hairdo and a flowing, draping gown that made her look free and floating as she wove her way through crowds of dignitaries and commanded a planet's respect. The woman who ended the war.

But memories of her, not his own, bubble up inside him, and just as he misses Spock he misses this woman he has barely met, though she's sitting right here before him. He misses her with an ache that tightens his chest and stings his eyes, and he sees her boarding a shuttle with the blue Vulcan night sky behind her and he knows he’s never going to see her again and it hurts .

It must be vestiges of Spock in his head, the tremulous connection after a broken meld, the feelings welling up inside him that don’t belong to him, but to them. Together now.

“Why did you leave them?” He blurts out. “Why did you stop coming to see them? Why did you …” he doesn't say ‘run away’ but he wants to.

Amanda's lips tighten, the tiny bit of joy she allowed herself fleeing her face at once. “There’s — you wouldn’t understand,” she says, and Jim grips her hand tighter.

“If anyone could…”

She snorts, glancing to their clasped hands. For a moment, Jim believes she might not answer him, and he kicks himself for offending her after she worked so hard to help him.

But then, she lets out a long sigh, and her shoulders wilt. “I loved them so much, Prince James,” she whispers. “And I was willing to give up my life on Earth to stay with them if I had to. But Sarek —” she pauses, taking a deep, shuddering breath. “He always said I made him weak. He said it was shameful for a Terran to — to ‘hold power’ over him. And as Spock grew up he began to say it too. I knew it wasn’t just him talking. His father, and the other Vulcans, taught him as they would teach any Vulcan child. But my own son said I was a weakness, and I think he meant it. He was always trying to be Vulcan. The most Vulcan he could be. I never wanted to make him, or Sarek, feel weak, when strength matters so damn much to the world they had to live in.” Her eyes turn to Jim. “And I deserved better than that. To be someone’s weakness when all I ever wanted was to make them strong.”

Heart clenching, Jim swallows, and he tries to form some words of understanding, some form of comfort, when Amanda wiggles his hand gently. “Spock told me that love was a weakness,” she continues. “But you changed his mind somehow, James. In spite of the hurt it’s caused you both, I am grateful for that.”

Jim let's out a tight breath, and he can’t force himself to look into those hopeful eyes. “I don't think I have changed his mind,” he admits, and it hurts to say it aloud. “He’s told me that, too. That's … why he asked me to leave. I'm his ‘weakness.’”

For a moment, they sit in silence, but Amanda squeezes his hand once more, in comfort or solidarity, he isn’t sure. “Then you do understand,” she says, and it sounds like she feels sorry for him. Of course, she would. “I couldn’t live like that, James, but that choice is yours to make when it comes to Spock.”

He nods, meeting her eyes once again. “It always has been,” he says on a sigh. “And I’ve always chosen him anyway. Don’t know if I’m strong enough to let him go.”

“You’re strong enough,” Amanda assures him. “But you have to decide if you want to.”




 

It feels lonely out here. Jim doesn’t typically feel lonely in space. Granted, he’s usually on a royal starship staffed with crew and guards and advisors and usually at least a few family members, and this is certainly the first time he’s flown solo in a long while. But sitting stationary in the middle of nowhere is a fairly new feeling, and the anxiety that’s gripped him since he first saw Sybok’s smug smile mere hours ago hasn’t yet faded. He can’t see any planets out the shuttle’s front window, nor is he terribly close to any stars. It’s just black, pin-pricked with white, completely still and completely silent.

Yet, somewhere less than a parsec away lies the border of Vulcan space, an imaginary border that feels so unnecessary when the entire universe lies open before him and around him. But it’s a border he must be mindful of. If he crosses it, the planet Vulcan would be alerted to his signal, meaning Sybok could find out he’s here.

No one can know, except for Spock. He hopes Spock knows he's here.

Jim taps the steering console with impatient fingers at the thought. In spite of how real the meditation felt, he’s starting to worry that he imagined Spock after all. Imagined that he was successful in delivering his message. Though, of course, it’s probably harder for Spock to slip away than it is for Jim. All Jim had to do was walk into the hangar, tell Scotty he needed a shuttle for a little cruise, and then it was his. No questions asked. Spock is the ruler of a planet in the midst of a civil war. Every eye must be on him right now.

So Jim waits, and he watches the stars.

It’s in that oppressive, lonely silence that, after a while, his console begins to beep. The sound startles Jim, who scrambles to his feet without thinking and leans over the console to check the scanners. A single dot has appeared on screen, a cruiser-sized shuttle decloaked right off his starboard side.

Relief makes Jim’s shoulders fall; excitement causes his heart to pound; and Jim glances to the side as if he could see Spock through the metal and the space between them. Spock doesn’t open a comm channel, for which Jim is grateful. The less detectable activity they engage in, the better, and Spock must realize that, too. So, silently, Jim uses the tiniest burst of thrusters to nudge himself in Spock’s direction, tapping the inertial dampeners when he knows they’re just close enough.

Except, they’re not close enough yet. They won’t be close enough until he’s got his arms wrapped around Spock and Spock’s nose tucked into his hair. Until Spock is buried in his mind again, with that warm soothing presence that makes Jim feel like home.

Though he knows this isn’t the most ideal meeting, and he doesn’t know if Spock will even be happy to see him, given the circumstances, the simple idea of seeing Spock is enough to make him forget for a moment why he’s here. This could just be a secret rendezvous between forbidden, star-crossed lovers, couldn’t it? It could feel as delightfully inappropriate, as playfully unwise as their first few fucks.

But even as the thought occurs to him, Jim can feel that they both know this meeting is much more than that.

Setting up the environmental force-field, Jim taps a few buttons on his console and his shuttle’s side door slides open to the glittering shine of its shield. On his screen, Jim watches the cruiser beside him do the same, as a walkway begins to extend from its floor between their open doors. The mechanism seems to move impossibly slowly before the walkway finally connects to Jim’s ship, and the force-field flickers, shimmers. With another few adjustments, it grows, and Jim watches the force-field balloon out like a bubble, then contract as if it were vacuum-sealed around them, encapsulating the walkway and both of their ships as the air pressure shifts and settles between them.

The moment their worlds connect, Jim feels Spock as if he were standing in the room with him. He abandons his console without a moment’s hesitation, running toward the open door just in time to see Spock appear in the doorway of his own ship. He’s wearing his chiton, his hair long and straight, his strong arms hanging at his sides. And Jim feels the breath leave his lungs at the sight of him.

“Spock,” he whispers, just as his own name leaves Spock’s lips, and they run toward each other, footfalls clanging on the metal walkway. When they meet in the middle, Jim flings his arms around Spock’s neck, burying his face in Spock’s shoulder as Spock’s hands come around his back and hold him tight. The restrained strength in Spock’s arms feels familiar, the way he’d hold Jim when they made love, when they laid in bed in the mornings and Spock wound his limbs around him and refused to let go. Though this is the first time they have touched in months, Jim knows they haven’t let go since they parted. Not really.

But even as they embrace and their worlds constrict to fit only each other, the universe yawns like a cavern around them, endless and empty. Jim is sure he’d feel vertigo if he dared look around; the faintly glittering force-field doesn’t seem like quite enough protection from the black vacuum of space. But he’s safe now, in Spock’s arms, and he feels Spock’s warmth and delight and the comfort of being cherished, wanted, desired, missed.

Loved.

Jim pulls away just to see him, and lays a hand on Spock’s cheek where the long-faded scar of phaser fire has drawn its permanent, faint white line.

He knows it’s time to speak now, but he can’t. Not yet. And Spock doesn’t seem too eager to break their silence either. Spock allows Jim to pull him forward, and their lips meet in a gentle kiss, somehow lacking the fire of desperation, no matter that Jim can feel the desperation in both of them.

Spock pulls Jim’s hand from his cheek and lines up their palms together as their lips press and mould against each other, that long-missed energy buzzing between them as Jim sinks into the kiss, pressing up against Spock so hard he feels they might fall into each other. Spock's hand runs up his back, a strong, sure touch, and Jim winds his fingers through Spock's hair again. He missed this feeling. He missed Spock . And he meant what he said to Amanda. He doesn't have the strength to let Spock go. Even if he wanted to.

No matter what comes next, Jim knows he doesn’t want to.

When they pull away, it is only by inches. Spock settles their foreheads together, sharing Jim’s breath. “Spock,” Jim says quietly, “I feel like I haven’t seen you in years.”

“I feel the same, ashayam,” Spock says, the word carrying with it all the weight of Spock’s affection as it flows through Jim’s skin. Jim wishes he could bask in it. “I have missed you.”

Jim’s heart aches at the admission. Tenderness is supposed to be a weakness, but Spock has always admitted his weaknesses to Jim. Only Jim. Only in their quiet solitude together. As soon as Spock knows how strong he needs to be for the coming storm, he may decide once more that love isn’t worth the weakness, as Sarek once did.

And though Jim doesn’t want to find out how Spock may react to what he has come here to say, he can’t put it off. He called Spock here for a reason, and it wasn’t just to see him. Though the sight of Spock does give Jim strength.

“We — we need to talk,” Jim says, pulling back just slightly. He hates himself for breaking their peace. “And I’m sorry, but it’s more important than you and me now.”

“What has happened?” Spock asks, holding Jim against him with that steady hand on his back. “I have felt your distress. Are you in trouble?”

“No,” Jim rushes to reassure him before he even thinks about it. “Well, yes . But we all are. I —” he draws away and looks down, shaking his head. And though they are more alone in this stretch of deep space than they have ever been, he almost worries they’ll be overheard.

But it’s just the flickering of the force-field and the far-off gleam of the stars to keep them company. Them and the stars. If only it could always be that way.

“Tell me, Jim,” Spock says quietly.

“It’s Sybok,” Jim begins again, and Spock stiffens against him immediately.

“What has he done?” Spock snaps. A flash of fear fires over their connection and Jim’s head aches anew with the feeling. “Has he threatened you?”

“Yes and no,” Jim says. At Spock’s confused look, he continues as gently as he can. “He’s offered us an alliance in exchange for removing you from the throne. We have three days — less than, now, I suppose — before we have to give him an answer. If we refuse, he plans to ally with the Klingons to destroy you. And us, I’d imagine. Though I think he plans to destroy us eventually, no matter what we choose.”

Spock draws back, and his fury becomes a palpable throbbing pain. Pure, unbridled rage burns through Jim’s gut, scorches his lungs until they feel like husks in his chest, and he almost begins to panic at the force of the feeling. Words take shape somewhere under each burning emotion. How dare he? I will tear him apart, I will rip his head from his shoulders, I will, I will —

It’s going to make it so much harder for Jim to say what he came here to say, but Jim can’t allow this rage to build. He forces out the words: “I think we should accept his offer,” and Spock takes a swift step back from him, yanking back his hands as if Jim has burned him.

“You — you would accept an offer of alliance from my brother ?” Spock asks lowly, his voice shaking. A sense of betrayal flows over their bond, and Jim reaches out at once to soothe it, stepping forward as he does so with a single hand raised.

“Yes,” he says, “but just as a ruse. We’ll tell Sybok that we’ll work with him, offer him our soldiers to take Shi’kahr, and offer me as insurance. I’ll be in his stronghold when the time is right, and you and Earth’s forces can turn on him. Capture him.”

“Jim,” Spock says, a warning in his voice and in the current of his mind. “You cannot suggest you would infiltrate Sybok’s base alone .”

“I’m never alone,” Jim says, tapping his temple with a little smile. “I’ve got you. I can — like I did today, when I called you here — I can tell you where his base is and you can lead your soldiers, and ours, to it. Right? Wouldn’t that work?”

Spock’s staring at him, unblinking, and Jim’s grateful he can feel Spock’s emotions now because there’s no way Spock’s hard-edged eyes alone could convey respect, pride, fear, love and despair all at once.

“Spock?” Jim asks, stepping forward once more and laying a hand on Spock’s chest. “That would work, wouldn’t it? You’ve been searching for his base all this time; I could help you find it. End the rebellion. And you and I have an advantage here, with this — this bond . No one knows about it but us.”

“I thought you wanted me to negotiate peace with Sybok,” Spock says, testing. “This has always been Terra’s position.”

“After what he did to Sarek, we all think he should be arrested.”

“That is not sufficient,” Spock says, voice hard. “I cannot be content with merely capturing Sybok. I must kill him. You know I must.”

“Do I?” Jim asks, pulling back a little. “I don’t understand why you have to kill him to win the war.”

“For my father’s honor; for my pride.”

Jim’s eyes narrow on him, but he feels Spock’s assurance and determination — that same damn determination that’s inside of Jim. Of course he’d fall in love with someone as stubborn as himself. But one of them has to make a concession. This might be the only way the alliance will happen. This might be the only way Jim’s tenuous plan becomes reality. “You know I don’t want you to kill him, Spock. More bloodshed isn’t the answer.”

“More bloodshed is the only answer we have ever known,” Spock says. “To kill him would be to prove that I —”

“That you’re stronger than he is?” Jim interrupts, lifting a hand to his head and rubbing it almost subconsciously.

“Yes.”

“I can’t condone it, Spock,” Jim says carefully, meeting Spock’s eyes once more. They’re dark, intent. Determined, damn him. “But he’s more of a danger now than he’s ever been. None of us can afford a Vulcan-Klingon alliance. Sybok has always wanted to destroy Terra, and the Klingons aren’t dumb; they have to know that. They’d wage war on us the moment they had Vulcan’s resources. And you —”

You’d be killed , his mind completes, and by the way Spock’s hand comes swiftly to his own, Jim is sure Spock heard that fear, if not the words. He grips Jim’s hand tight, and Jim steps up against him, guided forward by the gravity that’s always existed between them.

“I know what's at stake,” Jim continues quietly. “And it's bigger than your pride. If you have to kill him, you have to kill him, but I don't want you to. Earth won't want you to. And you are going to need our help to see this through.”

There's a pause, a long one, and Jim watches Spock with the kind of intensity of attention Spock has always turned on him. But Spock seems far away, his body pressed close to Jim's but his eyes unfocusing off in the distance past their force-field. Toward Earth.

“You propose, then,” Spock says gently as he turns his eyes back to Jim, fingers brushing over Jim’s own, “a joint mission, between my forces and Terra’s. Even knowing that I will kill Sybok when I see him?”

“Even knowing that you want to,” Jim agrees, though it hurts to do it. There’s something echoing in his mind, a belief that Spock might change his mind, though little about Spock has changed in five years, and little will change in the next three days. “But I hope you'll make a different decision when the time comes. I don’t want him to die, but this has to end somehow. And it can end with a win for all of us, if you put aside your pride for half a second. That was your father's weakness. It doesn't have to be yours.”

“This feels —“ Spock pauses, reconsiders. “Are you suggesting this mission as the first step toward a formal alliance?”

Jim sees the indecision in Spock’s eyes, feels it in the wavering worry over their connection. He grips Spock’s hand and holds it between their chests. “I think that’s the only way Earth will agree to the plan. I know you think an alliance would make you weak. I know you think I make you weak, but —”

In a flash, Spock raises his free hand to the back of Jim’s head and pulls him in. Jim thinks he might try to kiss him, and he puts his hands on Spock’s chest as if to push him away. It’s not the time — the conversation isn’t near over. But Spock doesn’t try to take his lips again. He just holds Jim’s forehead against his own like he needs Jim against him. Like he needs Jim . “Since I have been without you,” Spock says, “I have felt very weak indeed. Now, here, with you, I feel strong enough to take on a thousand armies.”

Jim’s shoulders wilt and he closes his eyes, too afraid to believe what he’s hearing except that he can also hear Spock’s surety. An apology floats over their connection before Spock even gives it voice. It’s an apology Jim believes he may have heard before — somewhere in the back of his mind, but he needed to hear it aloud, didn’t he? Needed to know it came from Spock.

“I am sorry, t’hy’la,” Spock says.

The word — t’hy’la — so simple and so complex, brings meaning with it as it curls into Jim’s mind. Friend, brother, lover, every possible connection and a depth of connection that shouldn’t exist — can’t exist — between two people. But it exists between them.

T’hy’la means inevitability, clarity, desire, purpose, resolve. It means ‘soulmate’ but so much more than that, and its meaning makes Jim’s heart ache at the idea that they nearly denied it to each other.

As Jim lifts a hand to stroke Spock’s cheek, he closes his eyes tight, nodding against Spock’s forehead so Spock knows he understands.

“My weakness is not you,” Spock continues softly, “but the — the loss of you. You have always given me strength, always reminded me why I fight. I did not understand.”

“It’s okay,” Jim manages to say. “And I’m sorry, too. The pressure you were under, and your father — I should have understood why you were afraid.”

Spock’s hand moves to Jim’s cheek, knuckles caressing his skin in a mirror of Jim’s own touch. “I am no longer afraid,” Spock says, voice confident. Strong. “I will ally with Terra to defeat my brother, and I will keep you at my side. If others view these decisions as signs of weakness, they may. But I will know the truth. It takes great strength …” He pauses, searching for the words.

“To admit you need someone?” Jim asks, leaning into the touch of Spock’s hand, his whole being alighting at the feeling of Spock’s consciousness tickling his own.

Spock nods. “I need you, Jim.” After all this time, the words feel like a miracle.

“I’m yours,” Jim says.

A swell of love, wide and deep and profound, expands in Jim’s chest — Spock’s love for him, uninhibited by the fear of frailty, and Jim hopes Spock can feel the same in him. They tilt their heads in tandem, lips meeting in a kiss so gentle and chaste it feels, almost, as if it shouldn’t belong to them — a warm glow of embers somehow comforting in the face of the fact that they have been a wildfire since the day they met. When they break their kiss, lips still grazing lips on each shallow breath, Jim feels the intention in Spock to speak. But he waits for him to be ready. All this time he has waited for Spock to be ready.

“You are stronger than I have ever been,” Spock whispers finally. “That you would risk your life to end this rebellion is proof of it. I admire this, my t’hy’la. But it is time I prove my strength to you.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to me,” Jim says, pulling back to meet Spock’s eyes. They’re dark and intent, holding Jim’s gaze.

“Then I must prove it to myself,” he says, voice suddenly hard with the strength of his resolve. “I must be strong enough to let you risk your life for my fight. I must be strong enough to help you fight. And when it is done, when we have won this war, I must be strong enough to defend the alliances we have forged.”

Jim feels a smile break over his face, even as he feels Spock’s awe at the sight of it — like a sunrise , a voice whispers in his mind. A smile like the sunrise. And it feels like a sunrise, a new dawn, a chance to start over. Better this time. Stronger this time.

“I love you,” Jim says. He can’t stop himself.

In an instant, Spock closes the space between them, his hands on the back of Jim’s neck, pulling him in with a painful clash of lips and teeth, and without even a second’s hesitation Jim leans up against him, lining up every inch of their bodies that can touch, tilting his head to lick between Spock’s lips. He wraps his own arms around Spock’s shoulders and holds him close, and he hopes Spock knows — Spock has to know — that he has never meant anything with the sincerity of those three words.

They kiss with the intensity of their first, all harsh breaths and probing tongues. Spock bites Jim’s lip and Jim whimpers at the sting, licking the back of Spock’s teeth and relishing the scratch of his sharp canines. Spock’s fingers find Jim’s meld points, and Jim is already gasping “yes” into Spock’s mouth before Spock even asks.

Without so much as a whisper of the familiar words, he slips into Jim’s mind and curls around him and through him and within him, weaving them together effortlessly. Jim sees in a flash all of the fear, heartache, loneliness that has colored Spock’s last five months all flowing out of him, replaced with pure love, devotion, courage, strength. Flashes of images color his mind once again, images of himself through Spock's eyes, hair golden in the morning light, eyes closed in sleep; wiping the red of his blood from his forehead as anger creases his brow; leaning against a wall with his arms crossed, listening more intently than even Spock's warriors. Jim welcomes the feeling, shares what he sees in Spock. Shares images of Spock carrying a wounded soldier from a battle, Spock on his knees in the blue light of the hall, Spock's soft lips upturned in a smile with the city of Shi'kahr gleaming behind him out the window. Each memory like a portrait, a series of snapshots flickering past faster than they can draw breath.

Jim brings his hands to Spock’s chest, meld shallow enough to still feel him, his body, his warmth, touch roaming over his shoulders under the thin fabric of the chiton. As Spock whimpers into his mouth and rocks his hips against Jim’s, a thrill rockets through him at the sparks between their skin, and Jim hears Spock asking in his mind if this is alright. If there’s time. If they can come together once more before they have to part again.

But of course there’s enough time for this. There has to be. Because Jim doesn’t think he could part from Spock again without making love to him. Without connecting to him one last time before Jim throws himself to the wolves of Sybok’s rebellion and Spock risks his rule on one human man’s instinct. On one human man’s love.

Spock’s hand leaves Jim’s face to wind fingers into his hair, and it should break the meld, but Jim can feel Spock as if they’re still connected, as if their minds don't even need contact anymore to blend together. Spock’s pulling Jim hard against him, devouring his mouth, his free hand traveling under Jim’s shirt and clenching against his back.

Jim pulls back just long enough to yank his shirt over his head and toss it in the direction of his shuttle. His hands fly to the fastening of his pants, but Spock is on him before he can get them off, taking Jim by the waistband and pushing him against the walkway’s force-field. Jim gasps at the feeling as the field vibrates hard against his back, as he looks down to see the open, infinite maw of space below him, behind him and all around them. His stomach drops as if in freefall, and he meets Spock’s eyes.

“We’re really going to do this right here?” Jim asks, giving voice to a question Spock can already feel, as Jim can already feel its answer.

“You have expressed an interest in engaging in intercourse out in the open,” Spock reminds him. “I do not believe anywhere is quite as open as this.”

Jim laughs, feeling the giddy swell of Spock's heart at the sound, the music of it, and before he can force down his smile, Spock shoves up hard against him, stealing his lips in a kiss. Jim’s knees go weak, but Spock’s body keeps him standing, holding him tight against the field. Between them, Spock’s hand works the opening of Jim’s pants, and soon he’s got the fly open and his fists are in the waistband, tugging them down. Jim kicks them off, kicks off his shoes, and in an instant Spock is back against him, erection obvious under the tent of his skirt.

Rolling against each other, they take each other’s lips again, Spock's rough tongue scraping against Jim's lips, licking into his mouth, delighting in the taste and the pressure and the feeling of being close. Just being close . Jim doesn’t think he can ever put distance between them again. He doesn’t want to put distance between them again. He wants to belong to Spock and he wants Spock to belong to him, and though they will always belong to their duty they can belong to each other, too. It has always been this way, and finally — finally they can both see it.

Clarity. They’ve always found clarity through each other’s eyes.

With Jim’s back against that humming force-field and the sparking fire of Spock’s hands roaming over his chest, the dual sensation already overwhelms him, his whole body lit with electricity that snakes through his veins and down every single nerve. His erection straining, he whimpers into Spock’s mouth, bucking up against him, and Spock melts into their kiss.

Taking advantage of Spock’s relaxation, Jim takes Spock’s hips and wheels him around, shoving him up against the force-field now. He expects Spock to protest the position, but in his mind he hears only joy, respect for his lover's strength, for the power they share. Jim shoves his leg between Spock’s and runs his hands up Spock’s chest, his lips trying to force down a grin as Spock shudders against him. It takes an act of incredible self-control for Jim to pull away, but he does. “Tell me to kneel for you,” Jim whispers on a heavy breath.

Spock lets out a short, desperate chuckle, his amusement flickering over their connection like a flame of candlelight in the dark. “Kneel for me, Prince,” he says. The reprise of their game makes Jim’s heart hum, makes a grin spread itself over his face. He takes Spock’s lips in a quick parting kiss, then sinks to his knees on the hard metal of the walkway. Lifting Spock’s skirt, he holds it with one splayed hand to Spock’s hard abdomen, feeling the rapid beat of Spock’s heart under his fingers. The head of Spock’s cock is already dripping, and Jim licks his lips, glancing up to meet those dark eyes as he takes Spock in hand.

Spock lays his head back against the force-field, skin pale against the murky black of space and the faintly glittering light surrounding them. He looks ethereal, angelic, and Jim loves him. He doesn’t know how he ever thought he wouldn’t.

Eyes tracing every line of Spock’s body from his chest rising and falling with shallow breath to the carved lines of muscle at his groin, Jim pulls at Spock’s cock, running his fist from base to tip, slicking his hand as Spock huffs above him. Spock’s staring down at him with that look like the universe has melted away, and they’re all that exist, and Jim captures his eyes.

“Tell me what you want,” Jim says, and Spock’s cock twitches in his hand. His precum drips sticky down Jim’s fingers, and Jim knows what Spock wants. But he wants to hear him say it.

Spock runs a hand through Jim’s hair, tilting back Jim's head. “I want to feel you,” he whispers, voice shaky on the edge of control. “I want to feel every atom of you.” I want to see the very core of you. I want you to know the very core of me.

And Jim smiles, because their desires have always aligned, even before either of them knew it. He lowers his head and takes the tip of Spock’s cock between his lips, sucking gently as he flicks his tongue. Spock groans and leans his head back against the force-field, his fingers tightening in Jim’s hair. The sweet taste of him makes Jim hum in delight, and Jim doesn’t know if it’s the connection of their minds or the way his lips clench around Spock’s cock, but Spock gasps his name, hips bucking.

Taking the hint, Jim sinks down Spock's length, swallowing him down while his slick fingertips tease the sensitive skin under Spock’s cock, tracing the line of his perineum and up to the cleft of his ass.

Spock breathes out a single, strained syllable, “ Ah ,” a pleasured sigh — but in the Vulcan language it means ‘yes.’ All the permission Jim needs. As Spock pushes his hips forward, his legs spread, bare feet sliding slightly on the metal floor of the walkway. Jim takes him all the way down, swallowing around him. And as Spock tightens his grip in Jim’s hair and lets out a strangled kind of groan, Jim slips a finger into the tight ring of Spock’s ass, pushing past the resistance as Spock clenches tight around him.

He distracts Spock with his mouth while he works him open with one deft finger, licking the underside of Spock’s cock, lapping at his head and putting the most subtle pressure on his ridges with the clench of his lips. As Spock’s cock drips more insistently down Jim’s throat, Jim pulls off to get his hand slick, too, returning to Spock’s ass to slip a second finger in alongside the first.

Spock bucks his hips, burying himself in Jim’s throat, and Jim hums around him. He wants to touch himself, but he’s got one hand holding up Spock’s skirt and the other busy with probing fingers, pulling shudders and truncated groans from his lover’s lips, and frankly he doesn’t quite trust himself not to cum the second he puts pressure on his cock anyway. He wants to cum inside of Spock, to fill him up, to ensure that when Spock goes back to Vulcan he feels Jim inside him still. Every atom of him.

“Jim,” Spock groans, his fingers tightening. “You forget I can — can hear your thoughts.”

Jim pulls off, flicks his tongue against Spock's dripping head. “I haven’t forgotten,” he says playfully. He shoves a third finger in, curls them upward, and Spock growls from deep in his chest, tossing his head back against the force-field. “You’ve always gotten off on my dirty thoughts, haven’t you?” Jim asks.

Spock looks down at him through half-lidded eyes, his face flushed green, his lips parted. “Yes,” he says, “but they are louder now.”

Jim smiles and brings his lips to Spock’s head, kissing it gently before trailing his lips down Spock’s length. He tongues at the base for a moment before dipping lower, licking Spock’s balls and pulling one gently into his mouth.

“Jim,” Spock says with more urgency this time, and Jim leans back, spreading his fingers wide.

“Yes?”

“Now.”

Jim’s blood sings at the sound of that low voice, the way Spock speaks like he knows he’ll be obeyed. Well, he must know. Jim is far past saying no to Spock when he wants the exact same thing.

As Jim pulls out, Spock wilts against the force-field for a moment, catching his breath. He’s dripping lubrication onto the walkway now, his cock verdant and hard as a rod, and Jim has a feeling Spock is about as close to the edge as he is already.

Grabbing Spock’s skirt, Jim unties it from his waist, baring every inch of his lover’s skin. Spock might expect him to keep sucking him, and God Jim wants to, but they don’t have the luxury of time. So he stands, stepping away as Spock’s hand reaches for him almost unconsciously.

Much as he wants to, Jim doesn’t sink back into that touch. Instead, he turns away and unfurls Spock’s chiton, billowing it out into its square sheet. He c ould fuck Spock up against the force-field. He could make Spock turn around and stare out over the stars, but he’d much rather see Spock’s face contorted in pleasure, much rather bend over him so Spock can fuse their minds deeper. So he lays the sheet out on the floor and turns back to Spock, who’s watching him with possessive eyes and a heaving chest.

This time, when Spock reaches out to him, Jim takes his hand, pulling him close once more. Their lips meet, their bodies fall against each other, and they find friction between them as Jim’s free hand roams up Spock’s back, as Spock’s cock slicks his stomach, as their hips roll and Spock’s hand finds the globe of Jim’s ass. The hard plane of Spock’s abdomen is enough pressure to grind against, enough to white out Jim’s mind and make him forget why he was waiting for relief when it’s right here .

But Spock tugs Jim’s hand with impatient purpose, pulling Jim with him as he sinks down to the floor. They settle on the sheet together, Jim climbing over Spock’s body and rocking his hips as he keeps Spock’s lips, unwilling to break the kiss for anything.

Jim licks into Spock’s mouth so Spock can taste himself, taste that delicious precum that could get Jim drunk, and a spike of pleasure shoots through his cock at the feeling, at the taste. Spock's pleasure or his own — it doesn’t even matter. They both feel everything . They rock together for a moment, chest-to-chest, cock against cock.

Grabbing them both in-hand, Spock leans up to deepen their kiss, even as Jim loses his breath at the feeling of Spock’s strong hand clenched tight around him. Whining into Spock’s mouth, he tries to pull away, but Spock rises with him, free hand coming to the back of Jim’s neck and holding him. “Spock,” Jim whispers against Spock’s lips, and Spock leaves a kiss at the corner of Jim’s mouth, his chin, his jaw, and soon his lips are sucking at the sensitive vein in Jim’s neck, teeth scraping skin. Jim grinds hard against the body beneath him, arms shaking where they’re holding him up. “ Spock .” It’s meant to be a complaint, but it comes out a low and dangerous moan.

He can feel Spock’s own arousal at the sound shoot through him, just as he feels his satisfaction in the curve of his lips against his skin. “You will claim me,” Spock whispers, breath hot. “As I have claimed you.”

With a hard bite to Jim’s neck, Spock lifts his legs and wraps them tight around Jim’s back. Jim hisses through his teeth at the flash of pain, but his body melts down against Spock’s as Spock soothes the bite with a lick, his rough and teasing tongue setting fire to Jim’s nerves. Jim reaches between them immediately, taking his cock at its base while Spock licks into the hollow under his ear.

“Spock,” he whispers, lining himself up with Spock’s entrance, slick and open and ready for him. He wants to ask if Spock is ready, but all it takes is the intention to ask, and the answer is within him, even as Spock gives it voice.

“I am yours,” he says, no hesitance. No fear. And he lays back against the sheet, leaving Jim’s neck wet with saliva and throbbing in pain with lovebites that will be bruises soon — marked and claimed and Spock’s . As Spock belongs to him.

Jim can’t help it. He leans down, takes Spock’s lips in a kiss as Spock’s hands come up to fist in his hair, and Jim shoves into him with one hard thrust. They both gasp into each other’s mouths, the fire of pleasure rising in each of them, amplified by its mirror image in their minds. Jim feels Spock tight around him even as he feels full and fucked open himself.

Suddenly weightless, ungrounded, Jim drops his head to Spock’s chest, breathing through the pleasure as he pulls out slowly, the dragging friction nearly ruining him right there.

“Oh, Spock ,” Jim whispers, voice shaking. Spock doesn’t speak, but Jim hears him anyway. He begs as Jim once begged, as they have begged each other over and over and over again — and always satisfied.

Deeper.

His hand comes to one of Spock’s thighs and he lifts, hiking Spock’s leg higher up his back. Then, he bucks forward hard, burying himself to the hilt as Spock lets out a cry. His hands tighten painfully in Jim’s hair, and Jim pulls out and thrusts forward once more, shoving Spock up the sheet. Jim’s back arches and he presses his forehead hard into Spock’s chest. “God,” he groans. “ Spock .”

Deeper.

And Jim obeys. He sets up a rhythm, hips rocking, relishing each gasp that leaves Spock’s lips as he fucks him. His own teeth are clenched, his eyes screwed shut, absorbed in the feeling that’s flowing between them. Overcome, Jim shoves up Spock’s hips and lays one of Spock’s legs over his shoulder, folding Spock in half. It’s only then he manages to lift his head to meet Spock’s eyes, clouded over with pleasure.

“Jim,” Spock groans, and Jim thrusts hard, making Spock’s whole body jerk. “Ah, Jim .”

They rock together, the stars glittering around them even as the connection of their minds blurs everything in sight into darkness, and Jim leans down, taking Spock’s lips in a kiss as he bucks into him again, harder, faster, swallowing the whimpers of pleasure that Spock’s releasing into his mouth. Between them, Spock takes himself in-hand, pulling himself off in time to Jim’s thrusts, and Jim lets out a moan at the feeling, nearly blacking out with the pleasure Spock feels at the simple touch.

“Jim,” Spock warns against his lips, and Jim feels it mounting in both of them like he used to feel when they melded just before climax. Will it be like this always? Where he can always feel how Spock feels, what he wants from him? Spock reaches up, lays his hand on Jim’s meld points.

“Jim,” he says again, “I want —”

“Me too,” Jim says, strained, “please.”

And Spock slides deeper into his mind as easily as breathing, a wave of ecstasy smacking into him. Jim reels with the feeling, Spock deep inside him as he buries himself in Spock, crying out. “Fuck,” he says aloud, hearing its echo. “Fuck, Spock, this feels —”

It feels deeper than it ever has, but he can still feel his body, every nerve tingling with the push, the pull, the power of Spock beneath him, loving him. Jim. He loves Jim , and Jim wants to take care of him, wants to make him happy, wants Spock to cum crying out as Jim reaches that peak with him.

Spock brings his other hand, wet and slick, to the side of Jim’s face, holding him tight, and Jim pulls Spock’s thumb between his lips, sucking while Spock lets out an aborted cry. Oh god, and that feels good . Spock’s sensitive finger, sparking against his tongue, his other fingers sparking against Jim’s skin. He’s static energy, lightning, fire.

And the fire’s building inside them both.

Spock pants beneath him, whispering Jim’s name as his mind screams it. Jim, Jim, Jim , and Jim’s mind reaches for Spock’s. They careen into each other, the entirety of the universe fading away until all he can feel, all he can think about, all he wants is Spock.

Spock thumbs at Jim’s lips, and in a moment they’re kissing again, gasping into each other’s mouths. When Spock bites down into Jim’s lip, Jim whimpers a choked ‘ah.’

Yes. The Vulcan word for yes . Every gasp and sigh between them means yes .

“Ah, fuck,” Jim whispers, wet breath between them, “Fuck, Spock —” he doesn’t have to tell him. Spock knows, and Spock’s hands on Jim’s face move into his hair, holding him in place.

“Yes,” Spock says hoarsely. “I want to feel you.”

He says it like an order, the same growl in his voice as when he told Jim to kneel all those years ago. That growl carries years of tension, memories Jim has revisited a thousand times as he’s bit his pillow and fucked into his own hand, but this isn’t a memory. It’s real and Spock wants Jim to cum inside him and fill him and goddamn Jim doesn’t need Spock to tell him twice.

“Ah,” Jim groans, hips losing rhythm, “Fuck, Spock — ah, ah —” and he cums with a cry wrenched from his lungs as he feels Spock tighten in his hand. Cum spurts against Jim’s stomach and Spock tosses his head back against the rumpled sheet. His back arches in pleasure, burying Jim deeper.

Jim’s whole body clenches tight as he rides out his climax, fucking into Spock as hard as his trembling legs allow, ignoring the ache in his knees and the burn in his thighs as static shoots through his bloodstream. Spock’s tugging himself through his orgasm, too, falling limp against the walkway with his eyes clouded over, staring up at the black expanse of empty space.

Jim has the better view, Spock covered in his own cum, chest heaving, tugging his relentless erection. With their minds so connected, Jim could cum again — they both could — feeding off each other’s pleasure in an endless loop of desire and fulfilment. They could spend hours inside each other, but Jim pulls out with a gasp before he can let himself chase that feeling. Exhausted, he collapses against Spock’s chest as Spock’s legs curl tight around his back and his hands come to Jim’s head, holding him close.

“Spock,” Jim gasps, “is that — is that normal?” It’s a blessing Spock is in his head, because Jim doesn’t have the brainpower to make the question more specific, but Spock knows what he means.

“Unless we intentionally shield ourselves,” Spock explains through panting breaths, “I assume we will always feel each other like this.”

“Even without a meld?”

“We are always melded.”

Jim lifts his head just to meet Spock’s eyes, to see the smile in them. Jim can’t help but smile in return, giddy and absent and still so blissed out he can hardly think. “Holy shit,” he says. “ Vulcans .”

“You are pleased?”

“Can’t you tell?” Jim asks with a laugh. He brings his hands to Spock’s chest, lifting himself up to get a good look at his lover — hair splayed out against the white sheet, the glittering light of the force-field glinting in his eyes.

“Good. It is an honor to be taken by you,” Spock says, so sincerely it catches Jim off-guard. “An honor to have had you kneel for me, to have knelt for you.”

Jim feels his flushed face heat further and he ducks his head with a grin, settling back on his heels. “Pleasure’s all mine,” he lies with a laugh; they both know their pleasure belongs to each other. “And once all this is over I hope you know we’re locking ourselves in one of our royal bedrooms and really testing what this bond can do.”

Spock sits up, scooches forward on the sheet beneath him. With his legs bracketed on either side of Jim, Spock settles himself between Jim’s knees. They press together, and though Jim can feel that Spock wouldn’t mind sequestering themselves here and going at it for round two, three, eight, Spock doesn’t do more than run his hands up Jim’s back. “I look forward to a period of respite,” he says, and raises a hand to Jim’s cheek. The smile falls from his lips as he strokes Jim’s cheek. “When this is all over,” he echoes.

Jim takes his hand, his own smile falling as Spock’s worry trembles over their connection. It was easy to forget as they fell once again into each other’s bodies, into each other’s minds, but Jim can’t forget what brought him here in the first place. What has to happen before he and Spock can feel truly free. No matter how the universe feels wide and alive with possibility around them, they still have so much to do. Jim looks out over the stars, and Spock follows his gaze. Their hands tighten around each other, and Jim takes comfort in the touch.

“We need to — to hash out the details of this plan of ours, and then I need to get home,” Jim says. “If I leave soon, I’ll be back at the palace before everyone goes to bed. I can tell them everything.”

Spock ducks his head, brings his forehead to Jim’s. “You are not nervous,” he observes. Jim finds it in himself to smile again.

“We’ve got this, you and me,” he says. “Only thing I’m nervous about is telling my parents I’ve been mentally bonded to you for five months.”

A gentle current of amusement flows through him. “I would ask you to let me know how they handle the news, but I assume I will feel it.”

Tendrils of Spock’s mind seem to reach into Jim’s, and he laughs. “You will. And I’ll do my best to tell you what we’re doing. Where we’ll be.”

A moment passes between them.

“Then we will talk. And you will leave,” Spock says, regret flowing through them both. Jim will leave. Again. Twice now, he has left Spock, when every atom of his being has begged him to stay. But this time they know they will return to each other soon, and no force in the universe can keep them apart.

Jim nods, lets out a sigh and pulls away. He keeps a hold of Spock’s hand, though, helping him to his feet. And before Spock can kneel for his robe Jim pulls him into an embrace. They hold each other there, bare in the glittering light of the force-field with the dark of space all around them.

Just them and the stars. It can’t always be this way, but for the first time in months — years — Jim knows it can be close. They can be close.

If only they can put distance between themselves just one more time.

Chapter Text

Footfalls on the carpet set up a steady rhythm, the thump, thump, thump of Sam’s pacing like the frantic heartbeat of the room. As Sam passes the window again and again, the bright moonlight shining in from outside flickers, and it’s making Jim nervous.

Well, more nervous. Since he called his family into this room — the same meeting room where they spoke to Sybok earlier today — he has been a mess of valiantly suppressed anxiety. A thousand things could go wrong in this room, and Jim tries not to visualize each potential outcome as he waits. He sits now at that long table, watching his parents as he has for 20 minutes, their eyes scanning the PADD that George holds between them. Jim doesn’t know how many times they must have read Spock’s message by now, but he imagines they’re going through it with a fine-toothed comb, committing every detail of the proposal to memory.

Sometimes, when their eyes flicker with something like excitement, Jim can guess what they’re reading. Because, as a sign of good faith and as a gift for the fight to come, Spock attached the plans for the Vulcan cloaking device to his message, and George and Winona must realize that they now hold everything they have wanted for the last three decades in their hands.

And all they have to do is trust in Spock’s message — trust in Jim’s ability to do what needs to be done. Though, as Jim told Spock just before they parted, it may be a taller order than Spock anticipates.

Finally, after minutes that stretch until they feel like hours, George lowers the PADD to the table, and Sam pauses in his tracks at the sound, the bulk of him blocking the moonlight. He doesn’t look at Jim, but rather at their parents. Though right now they sit with shoulders hunched and brows furrowed, and Jim doesn’t see a mother and father; he sees a queen and king weighing the fate of their planet.

“Alright,” George begins, and Jim tries to keep his face neutral as his blood runs cold with the ice in his father’s voice. “Before we address —” He waves his hand at the PADD, apparently without words to describe Spock’s long-awaited offer of alliance — “I need to understand something.”

“I thought you might have a question or two,” Jim admits, though his sheepish smile doesn’t have the effect he had hoped. None of his family returns it.

George barrels ahead as if he didn’t even hear him. “You can talk to Sa-te’kru Spock … with your mind.”

“Well, I can communicate with him. It’s not exactly ‘talking.’”

“So right now, are you ‘communicating’ this? Can he hear me? See me?”

“No, no,” Jim rushes to assure him. “It’s not — he hasn’t been spying on us. Unless we try to reach each other, we just kind of … feel emotions. Each other’s emotions, I mean. And even then it’s inconsistent.”

“So how is it useful to us? How can you use this ‘bond’ to do what Spock claims in this message that you can do?”

“George,” Winona chastises him tiredly. She rubs her forehead like Jim always does when he’s frustrated.

Jim restrains himself from doing it now, too. “I said ‘unless we’re trying to reach each other,’” he says with forced calm. “The fact that I even have this message to give to you is proof that it works. He knew exactly where I was going to be because I told him to meet me there. If I can get into Sybok’s base, sending Spock those coordinates is as simple as thinking about them.”

“This sounds insane,” Sam puts up from the window, and all eyes turn to him. “I thought Vulcan telepathy was a rumor.”

“Well, it’s not,” Jim says, frustration building. Somewhere on the other side of space, Spock might feel it in him. He must. He said he would try to find a quiet place, to tune into Jim’s emotions so he could know how Earth’s monarchs reacted to his offer. It’s likely Spock’s feeling a little frustrated himself. “Usually they have to be touching someone to feel anything, but what Spock and I have — Well. It goes deeper than that.”

Sam’s brows draw together, questions churning behind those eyes. It makes sense that he’d be confused, even suspicious. All of them have a right to be. But this bond is so much a part of Jim now; how could anyone question it?

So ,” George says with emphasis, and Jim returns his attention quickly to his father. “The two of you plan to use this telepathy to find Sybok’s location and capture him and his soldiers, thereby — theoretically — ending the rebellion.”

“Yes.”

“And in return for our help, Spock plans to ally with us? Officially? For good? These plans — for the cloaking device — these are real ?”

“Your Majesty,” Jim says, rubbing his head. The pain returned shortly after he left Spock there on the edge of Vulcan space, but it’s not as bad as it has been. “I understand that it seems far-fetched, but the plans are real. We’ll need cloaking devices to execute our plan. I promise you, Spock isn’t trying to dupe you. And I’m definitely not trying to dupe you.“

“Really? Because a little something like a mental bond with the ruler of Vulcan would have been very useful before now,” George snaps, “and if you hid that from us —”

“Of course I hid it from you,” Jim says. “I wasn’t going to use it. Not without Spock’s permission. Not for anything that wouldn’t help Spock, too. This isn’t my bond. It’s — it’s ours. Spock’s and mine. And we are the only people who can decide what to do with it. We’ve decided we want to use it for this. Isn’t that enough?”

George casts a look to his wife, as if asking for backup. She sighs and puts her head in her hand. “I don’t like that you hid it from us,” she says, “but I understand why you did. And it does change the rules of the game.” She meets George’s eyes and holds them, an unspoken communication passing between them. Eventually, George leans back in his chair with a heavy sigh.

Jim straightens. “So you’ll accept, right?”

“Jim,” Sam says, stepping forward. “This plan puts you in a hostage situation. And you could be killed the second Sybok finds out we’ve betrayed him. There’s no getting around that. Are you sure you’re willing to take that risk?”

“I have to,” Jim says immediately. “It’s not as though Spock can just bond with someone else. And if our plan works, our forces will be in place to swarm the base before Sybok is any the wiser.” They all trade glances at that, and Jim sighs. Unable to sit still, he gets to his feet and wanders past his brother over to the window, gaze rising to the stars. With midnight fast approaching, they have only two days to not only make this decision, but plan logistics, mobilize their forces. The fact that he’s risking his life doesn’t even matter to him right now. “Spock doesn’t want to put me in danger,” he begins quietly. “That’s why he sent me away in the first place. But he knows I’m stronger than he’s given me credit for — stronger than Vulcans think we are. Even he trusts that I can take this risk and come out on the other side. I just need you to trust me, too.” He turns to his family, then. Each of them are staring at him, Winona’s eyes sad, George’s hard, Sam’s appraising as if he’s seeing a side of Jim he never has.

They’ve always viewed him as the baby of the family, no matter that he grew into an accomplished and respected diplomat right under their noses over the last 32 years. But if he found respect in someone like Spock — the king of a planet of warriors — then he should be able to find respect in this room, too.

“And do you trust Spock?” Sam asks. “Implicitly? I know you’re worried about Sybok turning on us, but Spock could, too.”

“I trust him,” Jim says without a moment’s hesitation. “I trusted Spock with my mind, didn’t I? That’s…” He doesn’t know how to explain the intimacy of a mind meld, how deep Spock has delved into his fears and hopes and insecurities. And how he shared it all with Spock without question. Without hesitation.

Though he says none of this aloud, his family must understand. George’s lips part gently in surprise; Winona’s eyes soften; and Sam’s lips tick up in a small smile. A beat of silence passes.

“Alright,” George says after a moment. He stands, limbs heavy with a weariness that he wrestles somewhat successfully from his expression. “We’ll go through with it. When Sybok calls us in two days, we will accept his offer and — and prepare to double-cross him. This doesn’t sit well with me, but I would prefer to ally with Spock than a known traitor.”

“Thank you,” Jim says, wilting slightly.

“Jim,” Winona says, getting to her feet as well. “Spock’s message — he says he has agreed to use Terran phasers so his soldiers can use the stun setting. How on Earth did you convince him to do that? Vulcans don’t fight wars with stun beams.”

All eyes turn to him, and Jim can’t quite help himself. He shrugs. “I’m a very good ambassador.”

From the side, Sam lets out a snort of a laugh, though he covers it with a cough quickly when their parents’ eyes turn his way. Crown prince or not, ambassador or not, royal decorum always leaves Sam and Jim when they’re alone with their family.

“I suppose you are,” George says quietly, ignoring his eldest son. In his eyes, still fixed on Jim’s own, there’s a glint of something Jim hasn’t seen since he returned from Vulcan. Pride. “Well, James, we should all get some rest. Tomorrow we bring this to our generals and make a plan. You’ll — you’ll keep Spock updated, then?”

“Of course I will,” Jim says. “And I won’t let you down. I promise. This is going to work.”

George nods silently, then makes his way toward the door, hand clasped in Winona’s. She gives Jim a small smile as they pass, her own expression of support. Jim moves to follow them, but a hand lands on his shoulder before he takes a step. He turns at the touch, an eyebrow raised at his brother.

“What?” he asks as his parents head out into the hallway. “Everything okay, Sam?”

Sam’s frowning behind his moustache, eyes locked on Jim’s own. It’s as if he’s trying to suss him out, to find something in Jim’s expression. But what he’s looking for, Jim can’t even fathom.

“I know we’re all distracted by the war — and, well, we should be of course,” Sam says, his voice low as if he doesn’t want their retreating parents to overhear. “But I have to ask, don’t I? Does this … bond mean you and Sa-te’kru Spock are a couple? Legitimately?”

The question makes Jim’s eyes widen, unbidden. He hasn’t even thought to ask it of himself until now. Are they? The words float through his mind — t’hy’la, ashayam, I love you — and he supposes he probably should have realized before now.

“I … guess we are.”.

“Why do you sound surprised?” Sam asks, a desperate kind of laugh falling out of his lips. He releases Jim with a shove of his shoulder.

“I don’t know!” Jim says, Sam’s laugh making it easier for him to smile. “We haven’t really had time to, ah, talk about it. With everything going on, you know.”

“So you aren’t sure ?”

Looking into his brother’s confused eyes, Jim wishes he had any way to explain what he and Spock are to each other. They aren’t a couple the way people become couples. They aren’t dating or married or even just sleeping together. They’re just … inevitable. Whatever that means. It’s the only word that fits when it rises up in Jim’s mind.

“No, I’m sure,” he says, his smile turning far away as he thinks about Spock, about this thread that ties them even now. “We don’t have to talk about it. Spock and me, I mean. The answer’s just … there. The second I ask the question. We’re about as together as anyone can be, I suppose.” Somehow the thought doesn’t scare him at all. It should, by all means. They’ve spent only three total weeks in each other’s company. But they’ve spent hours exploring each other’s thoughts, feelings, desires and shameful secrets, and Jim is content in the idea of loving Spock, of Spock loving him. “Does that make sense?”

“Not a bit,” Sam says on an exhale, shaking his head. But he’s smiling. “But if he makes you happy, then I’m happy for you,” he says, “really. And I look forward to meeting Spock in person when all this is over.”

When Jim clasps his brother’s shoulder, he hopes Sam sees the gratitude in his eyes. Though no one has a window into Jim’s inner emotions but Spock, he wants Sam to understand how much this means to him. “When all this is over,” Jim says softly.

 


 

The void welcomes him in like an embrace and Jim folds into it, images flickering as they always do on the edge of sleep, but none making their way into that deep part of him whose eyes have been blown open wide by the presence trying to find him here. Those eyes — his eyes — take in the black, the dark, the emptiness around him, an emptiness waiting to be filled as a buzz of anticipation curls through his veins.

Somewhere outside himself, he’s wrapped in warm sheets, eyelashes fluttering, the moon shining through his window, but in here he is waiting.

It’s the sound of bare feet on polished stone that sparks the first light in the depths of his mind, an orange glow tickling the edge of his vision. He turns bodiless toward the light, embraces it without arms, breathes in its warmth without lungs. It’s fire, but Jim isn’t afraid of it. He’s felt this fire before, seen this fire before, been consumed by this fire, and he has always found what he needed in the ash.

So when the shadow of a figure begins to emerge from the flame and the glow and the burn of it all, he’s not surprised. Only relieved, grateful, full and complete and warm again. Jim — whatever Jim is in this place — drifts forward, chasing the warmth and the light as the outline of Spock’s body defines itself, his hair flicking over his face as if he’s walking through a wind, his eyes in shadow but conveying all the beautiful things Jim has come to associate with Spock’s presence. Love, desire, devotion, respect, pride, warmth. Everything is warm, a desert breeze carrying familiar floral scents like the perfume on Spock’s pillow or the blooming leaves along a garden path.

On each footfall as Spock approaches, grains of sand spill behind his feet; he drags a red desert in his wake and it spills out around him, behind him, beneath him, a backdrop to the man Jim loves.

This is Spock. How does Jim appear to him? Jim can’t see himself, but he is all Spock sees. And because their minds blend so beautifully Jim knows as if by instinct that he is lit by the violet breath of sunset, his lips gently smiling and water rippling around his feet on each step.

He reaches out. Spock reaches out. As their hands touch, palm-to-palm, pressing up against each other, the bottom drops from their world. The desert at Spock’s feet rains down below them, grains of sand falling into nothing. The water dries where Jim stands and the void contracts around them and suddenly Jim hears the steady rhythm of Spock’s breath, the rapid beat of Spock’s heart and Jim’s own pulse — always beating out of time and out of sync. Joy at the realization eclipses him, wraps around him and spins through him.

It’s their differences that make them beautiful.

Their lips meet, their bodies press together, and Jim melts against Spock, into Spock, pulling Spock into himself.

He felt him earlier, as he meditated in his room and tried to convey their success, but in the comfort of night with every wall around his mind razed to the ground, he doesn’t just feel Spock. He’s surrounded by him, body and mind alight at every thought that slips from Spock’s consciousness into his own, every intention and every promise.

Arousal fires through Jim’s blood, and Spock’s hands explore him, everywhere and nowhere at once, as Spock’s lips press to his lips and against his throat and travel down his shoulder, as Spock pushes inside him and lights up his nerves from the very core of him. Spock is gasping his name without voice, because still all the sound that surrounds them is breath and heartbeat and emotions that aren’t words. Except they are words. Memories of them.

I need you to protect me. Spock says. The morning light through the thin window is too bright; half his face lies in shadow.

I don’t say anything I’m not certain of. Jim says. He’s smiling, standing in the blue corridor, his chest bare and his cheeks flushed.

They may talk all they wish. Spock says, lips hovering over Jim’s own as they sink back into each other’s kiss.

I don’t want to leave this place. They both say, in unison, in tandem, in perfect harmony as their hearts beat out of time and their bodies without body move and blend into each other.

And Jim shoots up in bed, a gasp wrenching itself from his lungs as his body jerks and quivers without his control, as pleasure tears through him, as the warm comfort of Spock’s embrace lingers over his skin, damp with sweat. He takes hold of himself as he falls back against the pillows, clenching his teeth and regaining his breath. The warm weight of afterglow rests heavy on his chest, and he grins, eyes fluttering.

“Holy shit,” he whispers.

Somewhere inside him, Spock’s delight at having pleased him buzzes and hums, his own pleasure, and — more insistently, his voice — Rest now, t’hy’la.

Jim snorts, tucking his nose into the pillow as if to hide his smile, though he is alone and Spock will feel it in him no matter what he does. “I was resting. Before someone decided to sneak into my head and get me all hot and bothered,” Jim mutters, and he grins at the feeling of consternation in the currents of his lover’s thoughts.

“Not complaining,” he adds, and his eyes flick up to the pillow beside his head. As if Spock would be right there laying beside him. But he’s not. The depth of their meld fades, Jim’s mental walls rising no matter how he tries to even out his breath and keep hold of that thread.

“We won’t see each other,” Jim says quickly, though it’s silly to say it aloud. “Before the — everything.” He turns his eyes to the ceiling, chest rising and falling. Steady. In, out, keep the connection . “So just stay safe, alright?”

Spock’s assurances float through him, and Jim nods, willing himself to believe them. “I’ll be safe, too,” he says even before Spock’s own worry meets his own. “You can trust me.”

I know.

Those are the last words Jim hears  in their entirety, the meld now just tickling his consciousness. But Spock’s love wraps around him, embracing him, and he whispers comfort, whispers promises he will always keep.

The smell of his perfume lingers in Jim’s nose.

 


 

They aren’t alone this time, and Jim isn’t sure if the company makes him more or less confident about their incoming call. Now, the royal family files into the meeting room, trailing ambassadors and advisors and generals in their wake, the clock ticking down moment by moment. The old advisors who accompanied them on their first trip to Vulcan narrow their eyes over Jim as they pass his seat, suspicion carved in every line of their wrinkled faces. But Ambassador Uhura with her chin held high gives Jim a respectful nod and a slight smile as she passes to stand behind the family, as do General Pike and his deputy, Robbins. Jim finds comfort in their expressions, and in the tight, determined smile of his brother as Sam settles down in the seat at his side.

They don’t speak — none of them do — until the door slides shut and the blank screen stares silently at them like the great black void of outer space. The chrono on the wall tics moments closer to Sybok’s comm, and the tension rises in the room. In spite of what could happen, though, Jim straightens his back and hardens his eyes, confident. Whether it’s confidence in himself or Spock’s confidence in him lingering somewhere at the edges of his mind, he’s not sure. All he knows is that he can do this. They can do this. And they have to do this now.

As they watch, the screen flickers to life, and the computer’s voice echoes loudly through the crowded room — “incoming communication on secure channel.”

Behind him, the advisors all shift on their feet. Someone clears their throat.

“On screen,” Winona says, voice authoritative. And thank goodness. If Jim, Sam or even George had said it, he’s sure the waver in their voices would have been noticeable.

In a blink, the now-recognizable sight of Sybok’s face appears on the screen, and a sick grin spreads immediately over his features. It’s as if he knows his answer before the Terrans even say a word. He might read the resignation in their expressions, might understand that this is not the ideal situation for them. He might be proud of himself for forcing their hand.

Proud. Vulcans and their damn pride.

“Have you come to a decision?” Sybok asks before they even exchange greetings, and all eyes in the room turn to George and Winona. All eyes but Jim’s. Jim stares at Sybok with a rising bile in the back of his throat, with hatred and distrust and disgust that the Vulcan traitor likely won’t fail to notice.

“We … have,” George says, and trades a glance with Winona.

“And we accept your offer,” she says confidently. “Our starships stand ready to mobilize at your word.”

“The ships, and our soldiers, are at your disposal,” George says regretfully, and Sybok’s expression widens into a look of pure glee, even as George continues. “We would like to get this over with, if we can. We’ve waited 30 years for an alliance with Vulcan and we can’t afford to wait much longer. The sooner you are in power, the sooner —” he pauses, turns to his family with an apologetic look. “The sooner we hammer out the terms of our alliance.”

A cold silence settles over the room, and Sybok crosses his arms over his chest, his sideways grin turning Jim’s stomach.

“I’m glad you’ve made the proper choice,” Sybok says. “We will surround Shi’kahr and strike immediately. I’ve placed an agent inside the city to disrupt its shields, awaiting my word, so the moment we have your firepower in range, we’ll storm the palace.”

“Very well,” George says on a sigh. Under the table, he grips Winona’s hand. “We have ordered our soldiers not to kill Spock, but to capture him. Can we trust that yours will agree to the same?”

Sybok waves a dismissive hand, eyes rolling. “Oh, I suppose so,” he says. “I would like to see him dead, but I did say you could do whatever you wanted with him. I suppose the good prince here talked you out of regicide, did he?”

Jim sits still, eyes locked on Sybok’s as they turn to him. The smile playing over Sybok's lips has turned teasing, and Jim doesn’t have to fabricate the glare he offers in return. Unlike the rest of this ruse, his hatred is entirely genuine.

“As a matter of fact,” Jim says coldly, “ none of us want to kill Spock. He —” his voice falters. “He’ll be our prisoner. When this is all over.”

“And you will love that, won’t you, prince? Your own captive Vulcan lover,” Sybok shoots back. “See? An equitable arrangement for all. Even Spock might get used to living on Earth. He has always been fond of Terrans. Just like our father.”

Jim doesn’t honor that with a response. Instead, as he holds Sybok’s dark eyes, he tries to communicate all of this to Spock over the thread of their bond. He’s been practicing over the last two days, meditating every few hours to see if he can recreate the depth of connection they find together in their sleep. Thankfully it feels stronger now than it did before, almost as though the bond thrives off attention. He can feel, however impossibly, Spock’s confirmation that he understands that things are going as planned so far.

“Now,” Winona says, and Jim looks to her. Her hands lie flat on the table. “We understand, given our history with your father and brother, that you may have trouble believing us to be genuine. As, given your history, we have trouble believing you.”

Sybok nods. “Terra may be weak,” he says, “but I would not consider you stupid. You’re proposing insurance?”

“Yes,” Winona confirms, glancing to George. This is the part that requires the most delicacy. “An exchange. We will send one of our advisors in advance of the siege on Shi’kahr, and you may hold them until we have held our end of the bargain. In exchange, we request an operative of yours. Preferably the highest-ranking member of your rebellion other than yourself. Someone you wouldn’t want to sacrifice.”

“Of course,” Sybok says. “T’Lias will do. She is my second in command, and nearly invaluable. But this exchange should be equitable. Who will you send to me?”

Winona waves a hand, and from the pack of advisors behind them, Ambassador Uhura steps forward. She’s by far the youngest of their advisors, but whip-smart, and with a poker-face that puts Jim’s own to shame. She wears it now, expression inscrutable. “This is Nyota Uhura, our ambassador to Andor, our closest allies,” Winona says. “We will send her to Vulcan as assurance that we intend to honor our deal.”

Nyota was chosen for many reasons, none the least of which because she would be believable. Terra would not wish to sacrifice someone so young nor so important if they planned to betray Sybok. And, of course, she has no connection to Vulcan, no connection to Spock.

Sybok drags his eyes over Nyota as she bows slightly, and he huffs a little laugh. “She’s inadequate,” he says. “I would like to request someone more important than a simple advisor.”

“More important?” Winona asks. “She is one of our highest —“

“I want Prince James.”

Jim forces his expression to remain neutral, though he has a bit of trouble wrestling away a smile. This is playing out exactly as they’d hoped. Spock told Jim before they parted that Sybok would believe the plan more readily if it felt like his idea, and thank goodness Spock knows his brother well. He will likely try to leverage Jim as Spock’s weakness — exactly what Spock always feared he would do. But Sybok doesn’t know — cannot know, that Jim is Spock’s strength , too.

“Why me?” Jim asks, voice hard-edged as he draws the attention of the room. “I’m not even the crown prince. I’m —“

“You are my brother’s lover,” Sybok says without a hint of coy opacity. “And the son of Terra’s king and queen. To hold you, I would hold not only Terra’s reins, but Spock’s as well. Should anything …” he pauses here, almost certainly just for effect, “go awry.”

“Jim,” Sam says urgently, turning toward him and laying a hand on the table. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“Provided you do not intend to betray me,” Sybok says, “it is as good an idea as anything. And better than a mere ambassador .”

Jim thins his lips, as if this is a difficult decision to make, then slowly lifts his eyes to his parents’ worried faces. “Well?” he asks them. “You’re the king and queen. If you order me to go along with it, I have no choice.”

They trade pained expressions before Winona turns back to Sybok. “Surely Ambassador Uhura —“

“No,” Sybok says. “And my patience is thinning. Prince James or no one. Prince James or no alliance.”

The room holds its breath.

“Alright,” George says. “We … will send James.”

“Alone,” Sybok says.

“Alone,” George confirms. He meets Jim’s eyes across the table. There’s a hard glint of determination in his father’s expression, his lips drawn tight in a scowl.

“Very good.” Sybok’s tight shoulders seem to loosen. “James, I will send my base’s coordinates to your shuttle as you approach the planet. You will land at those coordinates. If I pick up any transmission coming from your shuttle or going to it, I will blow you out of the sky. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Jim says, proud of himself for injecting a tremor of nerves into the word. “When should I—“

“Now,” Sybok interrupts. “I will send T’Lias your way immediately, as well, and we will exchange details through this secure channel in the coming hours. For now, send every starship in your fleet to Vulcan.”

The monarchs nod. “Of course,” George says. “May our mission be a success, Sa-te’kru.”

Sybok smiles, as if the sound of the title pleases him, and in a moment the channel cuts out.

The whole room seems to shift and settle with a single sigh of relief when the screen goes black. “Just as planned,” Nyota says from behind them, and they all turn in their seats. “Now, your majesties, the second Prince James leaves, we should coordinate with Sa-te’kru Spock’s forces. Mister Scott has already installed the Vulcan cloaking devices on our ships, and Mister Chekov has set up a secure channel so we can keep in touch with Sa-te’kru Spock throughout the operation.”

“You’re sure it’s safe to communicate over subspace?” Sam asks. “Wouldn’t we be better off using Prince James’ mind magic?”

The room turns to Jim, and he swallows. “I’m leaving right now,” he reminds his brother. “And all that ‘mind magic’ is going toward telling Spock where Sybok is hiding. Mister Chekov’s channel will be secure. We can all bet on that.”

They all seem resigned to this, some with their eyes unfocused on the floor, others chewing the corners of their lips or running fingers through their hair. But of all of them, Winona is the first to stand, and the first to speak. “You’ll be careful, Prince James?” she asks as she approaches. She lays a delicate hand on his shoulder. By the tone of her voice, she would have called him ‘Jimmy’ if they had been alone. As it is, he needs to inspire confidence in the people in this room, in the ambassadors and generals who have put the future of their planet in the hands of a single man and a Vulcan — the grandson of a king that many of them were raised to hate.

But in spite of the pressure of their scrutinizing eyes, Jim smiles up at his mother and puts a hand over hers. “Of course I won’t be careful,” he says with a small, diffusing laugh, “but I’ll do what needs to be done.”

She nods and releases his shoulder, stepping back to give him room to stand. When he rises to his feet, everyone in the room save his parents sink into a short bow. So many of them wear expressions of pained distaste, no matter the deference they project. They may not believe he can do this. But a voice rises up inside him, louder than his doubts.

It doesn’t matter what they believe.

It doesn’t matter what they believe. They know what they’re capable of, he and Spock. And they are capable of this.

 


 

Out the forward window of Jim’s solitary shuttle, the red orb of the planet Vulcan grows larger. Its features become visible under inconsistent streaks of chiffon-thin clouds, and the now-familiar regions blend into each other. They lay delineated only by the shadows of mountain ranges, the darker reds and dull green-grays of spotty grasslands, the blank and dusty stretches of desert that roll and waver over much of the planet’s surface.

Though this will be only the third time he has come to Vulcan, an undeniable sense of home rises inside him. He can’t help the warm rush of nostalgia, the reactionary thrum of excitement, both nearly strong enough to do battle with his steeled nerves — though it would be a losing battle.

None the least because the coordinates blinking on his screen lead him to fly past the city of Shi’kahr far below him, past The Forge and the rural clan outposts he only knows by the far-off sight of them out the window of his bedroom in the palace. Slipping through the atmosphere faster than is wise, he follows those coordinates for thousands of miles, and abandons familiarity for a stretch of stoneless red desert, about as inhospitable as Jim can imagine a place to be. The Forge he knows lies pock-marked with small volcanic lakes and sporadic shrubs and spiky weeds. But this place is desolate as the Sahara, and all the more concerning for it.

As he maneuvers the shuttle to land, Jim sees nothing that looks like it might conceal a rebel base — nor does he see anything at all but waves of sand in the deep red of the late afternoon sun. Nevertheless, he breathes deep and even, and tries to find Spock in his mind, tries to tell him where he is, and what he’s seeing, or rather not seeing. The bond doesn’t feel as strong as it would be if he were meditating, rather than concentrating on his task, but somehow he feels Spock’s confirmation anyway, and the warm thrum of his worry. And, underneath it all, something else.

Like a vicious riptide tearing under the surface of Jim’s thoughts, Spock’s cold, hard determination doesn’t comfort him as it usually does. It has built into a bloodlust, the fervor of a beast at the hunt, and Jim can’t help thinking as his shuttle settles into the sand that he’s signing Sybok’s death warrant just by being here.

Spock will find them. Spock will kill Sybok, and Jim will be responsible. But it’s better than the alternative. He has to remind himself it’s better than the alternative.

He doesn’t disembark right away, as there’s very little to disembark to , and the shuttle’s external sensors read temperatures of 122 Fahrenheit right out the door. Sybok said he was sending coordinates to his base, but now that Jim’s here he has a feeling he might have been duped.

He stands from the pilot seat and looks out the window, right to left, craning his neck over the console to see if he can make out any sign of civilization, or any sign of life but his own. Even his scanners are coming up bunk.

But, after a moment, from over the horizon, a dust cloud rises into the rust-red of the sky, and it billows upward and outward as Jim watches. Something must be approaching incredibly quickly, which doesn’t bode well. Ignoring his nerves, Jim concentrates on the situation at hand. He can adjust for any unexpected wrenches Sybok might throw in their plan. He has no choice but to adjust. “Computer, identify,” he snaps.

The console whirrs for a moment. “Vulcan transportation vehicle,” a computerized voice says calmly. “Containing three Vulcan life signs.”

As the transport approaches, sweat prickles at the nape of Jim’s neck from nerves rather than heat. He tries to tell Spock to stand by, tries to tell him that this, wherever he is, isn’t the endgame, but he doesn’t know how successful he is. It’s hard to reach any kind of meditative state when, before his eyes, a thin black ovoid appears out of the dust.

Jim takes a deep breath and waits.

As the haze rises up to draw a veil over the low-hanging sun, the transport careens to a stop a few yards away from Jim’s shuttle, kicking up a fallout cloud of sand in its wake. Trying to keep his heart rate even, Jim watches out the front window as the dust settles, and the side of the transport slides open. Phaser rifles in-hand, clad in full armor, three Vulcans climb gracefully from the transport’s depths, their bare feet falling hard on the sand as they turn his way. One of them motions to the shuttle with their rifle. None of them are Sybok.

“Shit,” Jim says quietly to himself, but he straightens his clothes, straightens his back, and does his best to look regal. “Tiny hitch in the plan, Spock,” he says aloud. “But don’t worry. I’ll figure this out.” He doubts Spock hears him, but it makes him feel a little better to say something, to believe he’s not in this alone.

He’s not in this alone.

Steeling himself, Jim presses the command for the door, and it slides open to a whoosh of stiflingly hot air. It’s thin and rasping and difficult to breathe, and Jim finds himself with a hand on the back of his seat to maintain his balance. If he thought the climate in Shi’Kahr was unsuited to his physiology, this is downright deadly.

But, breathing through his nose, he manages to make his way toward the door just as the Vulcans approach. They all raise their rifles the moment they see him, and one barks an order in Vulcan to the other two. Jim can’t hear it over the hum of the transport idling nearby.

Holding up his hands, Jim swallows and gathers his courage. “My name is Prince James Tiberius Kirk,” he says with more authority than he feels. “Sybok sent for me.”

“We know,” the Vulcan at the head of the group snaps in Jim’s own language. He’s older than the other two, with long black hair streaked with gray, tied up in a messy bun. His eyes gleam out from under a furrowed, wiry brow. “Step out of the shuttle.”

Only hesitating a moment, Jim takes the few steps down to the sand and into the sunlight, dizzy with the heat. Arms still raised, he follows the line of their phaser rifles, moving slowly over toward the transport.

“I thought Sybok might greet me himself,” Jim says. He doesn’t want to let on his disappointment, but he at least feigns offense. “I am a prince, after all.”

One of the rebels, a young warrior whose bright blonde hair hangs messy around their head, spits in the sand. “We do not care for your station, Terran,” they snap. The leader glares at them.

“T’Sae, quiet,” he says, and he jerks his rifle at their transport. “Do your duty.”

Eyes narrowed, T’Sae approaches Jim, rifle raised at his face as they nod toward the door. “Get in, Terran,” they say, and Jim swallows, doing as he’s told.

He climbs a little clumsily into the hovering vehicle, finding the bench seat nearest to him and collapsing onto it. While he’s grateful to be in the shade, it’s barely cooler in here than it is outside. T’Sae climbs in beside him, as does the other, so far silent, younger warrior. T’Sae sits beside him, the other across from them both, and the two Vulcans share a look.

Just as Jim opens his mouth to ask after their commander, a bright flash glares through the tinted window behind him and a booming shockwave throws him halfway to the floor. The transport rattles as Jim wheels around. A blinding column of flame spreads across the desert, consuming the stretch of sand where his shuttle stood mere moments before. As Jim watches, the Vulcan commander swaggers away from the wreckage, clipping a device to his belt. A detonator.

“Why did you do that?” Jim asks, turning back to his captors.

“In case it is tracked,” T’Sae says. Their fellow pulls an unfamiliar device — a small silver box — out of her pocket and points it at Jim, who straightens immediately, eyes flicking between the two of them.

“And what’s that?” he asks.

“In case you are tracked.” The device hums on, and a beam of blue light sweeps over him from head to toe. The warrior checks the readings and slips the device back into her pocket. “He’s clear,” she says to her companion as the commander finally enters the transport. As he settles into the seat beside his warrior, the door slides shut, smothering the overwhelming heat even as the Vulcans’ faces flicker with shadows from the flames outside. All three have their rifles resting on their laps, their eyes on Jim, and Jim steeled his expression against their probing eyes. The transport jerks forward, driverless and intuitive, and begins to speed away from the wreckage of Jim’s shuttle.

“Have you forgotten something?” the commander prods, and T’Sae takes in a sharp breath, eyes widening.

“Oh, of course,” they say, “my apologies, Ot-lan.” With nothing more said, they turn more fully to Jim and lift the barrel of their rifle to Jim’s head. He barely registers fear, barely registers surprise, before a beam of phaser fire slices through the air, and everything goes black.

 


 

Fractured senses return to Jim as a slow sunrise of consciousness crests over the back of his mind. First, a groggy ache pounds behind his eyes, which refuse to open, then the contorted strain on each of his limbs pulls his muscles tight. Something bites into the skin around his wrists and ankles, and both hands and feet prickle with sensationless sleep. He’s leaning up against a wall, he thinks, sitting somewhat upright on a painfully hard floor.

Groaning softly, Jim tries to force his eyes open, but his eyelids do little more than flutter. He can hear something, though — the low tones of someone murmuring in a language he usually understands but can’t decipher now, the hum of computers, the steady beep of something like ships’ sensors, tracking movement. Then, a hush. And bare footsteps on gritty stone coming toward him.

Jim didn’t think Vulcan phasers even had stun settings, but he guesses that T’Sae’s phaser must have. Otherwise there’s no explanation for the breath in his lungs and the beat of his heart.

When he finally manages to tear open his eyes and blink into the light, he’s greeted with the bleary sight of a face — a familiar face, smiling with smug pride — though everything else about this place is unrecognizable.

He has no idea where he is. Which was, undoubtedly, the point.

“Sybok,” he croaks. His throat is dry and scratchy, parched in the hot, thin air. “What happened to —“

“We’re just being cautious,” Sybok interrupts, patting Jim on the cheek a couple of times before standing. Too groggy to lift his head right away, Jim watches Sybok’s retreating legs. He’s decked out in armor like his warriors were — the ones who retrieved Jim, who blew up his shuttle. The memories return in little, brief flashes, and Jim groans again, lolling his head back against the wall. This is definitely not how he had hoped his covert operation would go.

Finally mustering the strength to look around the room, Jim takes in his unfamiliar surroundings, his heart sinking. He’s been tied up in a circular, windowless chamber, its walls cobbled together with what looks to be salvaged metal, rather than the polished stone of most of Vulcan’s structures. Black curtains hang inconsistently along the walls, where Jim assumes Sybok recorded his comms to Earth. In the room’s center, a huge circular computer console glows with green light, its screens too flat for Jim to see, and the holographic projector in the center clearly non-operational if its multiple dull-black light projectors are any indication.

He drags his eyes toward the exits, which probably should have been his first priority. There are only two doors, leading out opposite ends of the room, two guards stationed at each them. All four stare at Jim with their eyes narrowed, phaser rifles lowered, but undeniably ready to level at him should he make a wrong move. He grimaces at his captors — the pained, dazed caricature of a deferential smile — but soon turns his attention back to Sybok, bent over his console and looking intent.

“I thought you said you trusted us,” Jim remarks, wiggling his fingers and toes to see if he can get some sensation back into them. An unsuccessful effort, unfortunately.

“For someone in my position, trusting anyone is unwise,” Sybok says from farther away. “I trust you more than I trust the Klingons, but that means little, doesn’t it? We discussed this. Collateral. Insurance.”

“We did discuss insurance,” Jim says crankily, shuffling to try to sit up a little straighter, though it doesn’t do anything for the ache in his back. “We didn’t discuss you knocking me out and dragging me to your secret hideout.”

Sybok lifts his eyes to Jim’s, a harsh little smirk playing over his lips. “Our ideas of what constitute ‘insurance’ seem to conflict. Did his highness expect a Vulcan rebel leader to provide a plush bed or a welcoming feast? You are not an ambassador right now, Prince James. You are a hostage. I will not ask your forgiveness for treating you like one.”

With that, he turns back to his screen, taps something on it, and Jim straightens again. No matter that he cranes his neck, he can’t see the screen. Damn.

“How long have I been out?” Jim asks. Without visual confirmation of what’s happening, he only has the timetables in his head. Terra’s forces were meant to arrive a few hours after he did, and pretend to surround the city of Shi’kahr while their cloaked ships surrounded Sybok’s base.

That was all assuming that, by now, they would know where to find Sybok’s base.

“Three standard hours,” Sybok says casually, and Jim’s stomach sinks. His head is still swimming, but he tries to find the thread of his connection with Spock, tries to convey to him that he doesn’t know where he is, doesn’t know where Sybok’s base is. Doesn’t know what to do from here. But pain throbs behind his eyes, and he can’t quite conjure the feeling of Spock. The feeling of the meld.

We are always melded , Spock had said.

Unfortunately, Jim neglected to ask what effect a stun-beam hangover might have on their connection. He can’t feel Spock. He can barely feel himself.

“Sensors are picking up Terran ships on their way to Shi’kahr,” Sybok says, tossing a smile Jim’s way. “And I haven’t heard a peep from my dear brother. He has no idea you’ve betrayed him.”

Jim swallows, recognizing too late he’s in a room full of telepaths. But they can only read his thoughts if they touch him, if they try to, and he won’t give them any reason to try.

So he stays silent, shifting only to try to find some semblance of comfort with his hands bound behind his back.

Sybok smiles, leaning back against the console. “You’re pouting,” he says. “I suppose you’ll be sad to see my brother leave the throne.”

“Only for your planet’s sake,” Jim says. He tries to even out his breathing without letting on that he’s doing so. He needs to be relaxed, focused, calm, if he wants to reach Spock. He needs to stay calm. “What are you going to do, anyway? When you’re in power, I mean? What makes you so much better than Spock?”

Sybok barks a laugh. “The same quality that made me better than my father. I am willing to make difficult decisions for the sake of my people. And, unlike either of them, I know who my people are.”

Jim glances to the Vulcans standing at the doors, their posture more relaxed now that it looks like Jim isn’t planning to jump up and try to escape. “So this is about Terrans, then? Your rebellion? You think Sarek was too soft on us.”

“I know he was,” Sybok snaps, the smile slipping from his lips as his eyes harden. “He has been too soft on all of our enemies. We have not engaged in a true war since the armistice with your people, which was my father’s first major act as sa-te’kru. Without conquest, we stagnate, and Sarek allowed us to stagnate for decades. Spock would do the same. A leader who shies away from war is not a leader at all.”

Shaking his head, Jim closes his eyes as if in exasperation. But really he just needs the dark to try to find that connection in the back of his mind. “Vulcans,” he mutters.

Sybok snorts, but Jim doesn’t open his eyes to look at him. Instead, he uses the following silence to search for Spock, imagining the orange glow around his shadowed figure in Jim’s mind, imagining those hands touching him without touch, that heart beating out of time with his own. He can’t conjure the rhythm, but if he tries, if the thinks hard enough —

The harsh sound of Sybok’s voice bursts through Jim’s thoughts, and he screws his eyes shut tighter, trying to ignore the distraction. “Terran ships are in position around Shi’kahr,” Sybok says in the Vulcan language, words obviously directed at his guards. “Serel, tell our agents inside the city to stand by; prepare to lower the city shields.”

Of course, Jim finds that distraction very hard to ignore. A door slides open, then shut, and Jim tightens his teeth.

“The Terrans ,” Sybok barks, this time in Jim’s language, and Jim’s eyes snap open, “want to issue an ultimatum before we start the battle,” he finishes, only when he has Jim’s attention. He’s leaning against the computer console again, looking nonchalant. “Don’t fall asleep again now, Prince. You’ll miss everything.”

With Sybok’s attention on him fully, Jim can’t isolate himself in his thoughts, but the fog is finally beginning to clear. Maybe cause a distraction? It might be his only hope.

“I’m kind of missing everything here anyway,” Jim says, forcing indifference. “Why aren’t you in the center of the action?”

Sybok waves a dismissive hand and abandons his console, turning toward Jim. “And put myself in danger? No. You see, Vulcans think honor in battle is more important than the outcome of that battle. I would prefer this battle to end with Spock dead and myself in power, and that won’t happen if I’m killed in the fight. I have soldiers willing to die for me. Why not use them?”

Jim glances to the soldiers at the doors, but they don’t seem to have any reaction to Sybok’s words.

“I thought Vulcans were obsessed with honor in battle.”

“Honor is a weakness,” Sybok says. He begins to approach, slow as a stalking beast. “It was my father’s weakness, and Spock has, fortunately for me, inherited it. Vulcan rulers have long used their armies to wrestle power from each other. It is how our family gained supremacy on this planet nearly 600 years ago. Only stunted, modern thinking suggests a ruler must risk his life to prove his strength. I command hundreds of warriors. That is my strength.”

“Then what’s your weakness?” Jim asks, meeting those dark eyes as Sybok comes to kneel before him. In spite of everything that sets Sybok apart from his brother, from his father, those eyes do look familiar. Though he’d be more likely to see the family resemblance if there were even a glint of compassion in them.

“What makes you think I have one?” Sybok asks with a sharp-toothed grin. Jim returns the smile slightly. It’s a challenge Sybok may miss entirely.

“None of you are as strong as you pretend to be,” Jim answers. “Everyone has a weakness.”

“I am not so careless as my fool brother. If I have a weakness, I will die before I reveal it. This is why my rebellion is the first to find success in centuries.”

Jim can’t help himself. “Isn’t it a little early to call your rebellion a success?”

“Not at all,” Sybok says with a dismissive chuckle. “At this moment, Terra’s forces are demanding Spock’s surrender. Your family’s forces. Speaking of…” he stands once more, returning to the console. “You’re quite distracting,” he says somewhat absently as he approaches the center of the room. He taps something on his screen. “I can see why my brother is fond of you, though I don’t share his particular … proclivities.”

Jim stiffens, revulsion rising like bile in his throat. “Thank goodness for that,” he mutters, and Sybok barks out a laugh.

For a second, silence settles again while Sybok reads his screen, and Jim swallows down his disgust, wiggling against his bindings as subtly as possible. If he can’t reach Spock, he needs to get out of here somehow. With the one guard having left to deliver Sybok’s message to his agents, only three remain in the room, plus Sybok himself. Maybe Jim could distract them or sneak away from them. Even at his best, he couldn’t overpower them.

“What’s happening now?” Jim asks, flexing his fingers and trying not to show the effort on his face.

“Your forces are taking far too long to deliver their ultimatum,” he spits. “Do you Terrans always couch your demands in such flowery language? ‘We request the release of your sa-te’kru, S’chn T’gai Spock, who has been deemed no longer fit to rule the planet Vulcan…’” he trails off with a sigh. “It is no matter. He will surrender soon enough. And if he doesn’t, we storm the city. Spock will not risk the lives of his citizens.”

“You never said you would take civilian lives,” Jim says, straightening. His family doesn’t plan to go through with the siege on Shi’kahr, of course, but Sybok’s forces may do so, no matter what happens when Terra turns on them.

“I will risk anyone ’s life for my cause. T’Lias is my lover and second-in-command, and yet I sent her to you willingly, knowing that she will likely be killed when I betray Terra’s forces.”

This time, when silence falls between them, it hangs heavy with the weight of Sybok’s words, as if they’ve been caught in midair before they even break through Jim’s mind.

But he hears them — eventually — and his stomach churns with the realization that he was right in his suspicions all along.

“I’m — sorry?” Jim asks.

“Oh, Prince James,” Sybok says on an exhale. He shakes his head, then shoots a smile Jim’s way. “The moment I have Vulcan’s army at my disposal, I have no need for Terra’s forces. And I will have gathered all of your ships in one place. Why a faux alliance never occurred to my grandfather...” he shakes his head, seemingly at a loss.

Jim opens his mouth to speak, to shout, but before he can —

Rai !” the cry comes from far away, possibly even outside the building, an anguished and strangled ‘no,’ and every head in the room swivels to the sound. Then, a phaser beam fires somewhere distant, followed immediately by another.

Sybok slams a hand on the console, wheeling around to his guards. “What is happening?” He snaps. “Investigate. Now.”

All three guards move toward the door at Jim’s left, but they barely manage a few steps. Before one of them even reaches out a hand to the command screen, the far door bursts open and one of Sarek’s soldiers flies in. “Sa-te’kru!” they shout, and Jim turns to him fast as a whiplash, recognizing them as T'Sae, the one who stunned Jim. Their eyes, wide under pale brows, look frightened. They say something in their language too rushed for Jim to understand, though he can at least pick up on the spirit of it.

The Terrans must have found them. Somehow, Spock found him.

“What’s going on?” Jim asks urgently, and Sybok wheels around to face him, a fire in his eyes and any hint of pride or smug self-confidence gone from his face. The three guards and T'Sae all look to each other for guidance, then back to their leader, but Sybok looks to have forgotten about them entirely.

“A Terran ship has uncloaked outside,” he hisses, stalking toward Jim. Jim presses back against the wall — nowhere to run. No way to run. “ How did a Terran ship get a cloaking device , Prince James?”

Jim tries to force his bound feet under his body, as if he could actually stand, actually move. But Sybok is already pulling the phaser from his hip, his finger poised over its trigger.

“I don’t know anything about—“

“Don’t you dare lie to me,” Sybok growls. He leans down and curls a fist into Jim’s collar, yanking him roughly skyward. Jim squirms as his legs dangle beneath him, the tips of his boots barely grazing the ground. But no matter how he struggles, Sybok’s hold doesn’t break. That damned Vulcan strength.

The guards all converge on Sybok, shouting something in Vulcan that Jim doesn’t understand as the words layer over each other, but judging by the sound of phaser fire, now reaching a crescendo outside, the Terrans and Spock's forces must have brought a good complement of soldiers. Maybe enough to take down Sybok’s base. Maybe enough to do it before Sybok kills Jim in cold blood.

“Shut up!” Sybok snaps at his soldiers. They fall silent, tense glances shooting between them like bullets. But, of course, Sybok isn’t looking at them . Glaring into Jim’s eyes, Sybok aims his phaser at Jim’s feet. With barely a moment for Jim to wince, Sybok shoots and a red beam of phaser fire slices through the ropes around his ankles. They fizzle and fall away, and Sybok drops Jim to his numb feet.

“You’re coming with us,” Sybok growls, grabbing him by the elbow. Then he turns to his soldiers, waving his phaser in the direction of the far door. “Ask’ersu-lar,” he snaps. “Clear the way ahead of me, all of you. Ask'er T'Sae, start the shuttle.”

The guards all run toward the far door, rifles up, but the sound of fighting is coming closer, muted phasers firing clear as day on the other side of these walls. Sybok marches forward, dragging Jim along with him, and Jim stumbles on his numb feet.

“I’m not going anywhere with —”

“Quiet!” Sybok shouts, and he yanks Jim against him. This close, the wild white around the irises of Sybok’s eyes gleam dangerously, spit clinging to the curls of his beard, hard lines of anger carving themselves along his brow. “You are coming with me,” Sybok repeats, and he drags Jim onward — no matter that Jim struggles. He can’t fight a Vulcan . He’s never been a fighter. He’s a negotiator. A diplomat. And the challenges he has leveled at Spock all these years have been too playful to be practice for something like this.

Vulcans are pure will, pure passion, pure fire. And Jim should have realized someday that fire would burn him.

“Sa-te’kru!” The last guard in the room shouts, waving for Sybok to hurry. “The fighting is getting closer, we must —”

A slice of blue light comes crashing into her, and Jim wheels around, the hand around his elbow tightening as Sybok turns with him. Just as Sybok lifts his phaser and levels it at the other door, a figure steps through, a single phaser pistol raised at the line of his eyes.

“Spock,” Jim breathes, relief overwhelming him even as the connection flickers and flares to life in his head and the first thing he feels is fear, Spock’s fear. Even as Spock's eyes harden with determination, the terror inside him wavers and trembles and trips over relief at the sight of Jim — alive, thank the gods, alive

“Spock, I’m alright, I—”

Sybok pulls Jim in front of him, raising the phaser to the back of his head, and Jim stumbles against Sybok’s body, wincing in his grasp. “Do not come closer, brother,” Sybok shouts, backing away toward the door. The soldiers must have cleared a path after all — silence echoes down the empty hall beyond. If Sybok escapes, if he takes Jim with him or if he loses control and pulls that trigger, everything will be ruined.

“Release him,” Spock growls. He doesn’t lower his weapon. “You have been beaten. The Terrans at the capital have captured your forces and we have made quick work of your guards. You will yield.”

The hand holding Jim tightens dangerously, and the phaser digs an imprint into the back of his skull, even as Jim fights to loosen Sybok’s grasp. “If you come near me, I will kill him,” Sybok growls, and the fear and the fury from Spock’s mind comes crashing into him. Jim clings to that feeling, holding it tight to maintain their connection. He tries to soothe the fear, tries to quiet the rage, but his own heart is pounding in his chest, and he doesn’t think he can pretend he’s not afraid, too.

I love you , he thinks loudly, staring into Spock’s eyes. Spock swallows, finger twitching on the trigger of his phaser as his gaze flicks between Jim and Sybok. I trust you. Fingers dig into Jim’s arm and Jim clenches his fists behind his back, eyes hard on Spock’s own.

I need you to trust me.

Shouts echo down the corridor behind Spock — Terran voices. Reinforcements.

Spock lowers his weapon.

“Release Prince James and you may run,” Spock says quickly, and Jim tries to send his gratitude over their link. But he can’t express that gratitude, not aloud.

“Spock, what are you doing? Don’t let him go ,” Jim shouts, struggling against Sybok’s grasp.

“Your life is more important, Jim,” Spock snaps. “Brother, release him. You have little time.”

“You are as weak as our father,” Sybok says, relief in his voice as he steps backward, a mere foot from the the threshold of the door. His grip loosens on Jim’s arm, but Jim moves back with him. “Negotiating! I never would have thought it of you. You would allow me to escape, gather my forces once more. All for this.”

With a violent shake, Sybok holds Jim out in front of him, taking one more step back. The barrel of the phaser slips from where it was pressing into Jim’s skull. It’s now or never.

Jim catches Spock’s eyes, and Spock’s faith in him overshadows everything, his fear, his exhaustion, his weakness. In a flash of a moment, Jim doubles over and throws his shoulder into Sybok as hard as his strength allows, body becoming battering ram. Sybok shouts, a phaser fires, but a red beam misses Jim’s head by inches.

Wheeling around, Jim ducks and sweeps a leg at Sybok’s ankles, throwing the Vulcan off-balance. Sybok teeters but doesn’t fall. Phaser clutched in his fist, Sybok points its barrel between Jim’s eyes.

“You —“ Sybok shouts, but a beam of light wizzes through the air. Jim stumbles back, hitting the floor hard as Sybok crumples to the ground before him. All the power and force of the infamous rebel leader, reduced to a pile of limbs and a pair of dark eyes, open wide and staring sightlessly at the ceiling.

“Holy shit,” Jim shouts, scrambling backwards, boots scraping the rough stone. Spock stands stock still in his periphery, and Jim turns breathlessly to his lover. The phaser pistol trembles in Spock’s hand, its glowing tip fading as Spock stares wide-eyed at the prone form of his brother. “Spock, was that…?”

“I only stunned him,” Spock says, the weapon falling from his hand. He looks to Jim, then, prone on the floor, and it’s as though he’s seeing him for the first time. A breath heaves his chest, and relief rises like a tide inside of Jim — Spock’s and his own.

Spock begins to approach, only making it a few steps as the door behind him bursts open. They both turn to the sound as a half-dozen Terran soldiers rush into the room, phasers drawn. Sulu is at their fore, his eyes wide as they take in the room.

“Your highness, Sa-te’kru,” Sulu says in relief, glancing to Jim, then Spock, then the unconscious forms of Sybok and his guard. “Is that—”

“Take Sybok away before he regains consciousness, Commander Sulu,” Spock interrupts. “I request he be brought to the prison at Shi’kahr to await judgement.”

“What’s the situation outside?” Jim asks. He shuffles a little, trying to get his feet under him.

“The complex has been cleared,” Sulu responds. “Terran and Vulcan forces have surrounded it in case there are any stragglers. We’ve stunned and restrained at least 60 rebels — probably more. And hundreds at the capitol.” His lips curl in a slight smile. “They weren't expecting us ‘weak Terrans’ to turn on them. There are a few injuries, but no reported deaths just yet.”

Jim breathes out a sigh, nodding. “Thank you, commander. Now, if someone wouldn’t mind —” he wiggles his arms, aching from their restraints, and Spock turns back to him.

“Of course, ashayam,” he says softly, and he waves the Terran soldiers away as they hurry to restrain Sybok. They’re just blurs in Jim’s periphery now, though. Jim’s whole attention returns to Spock. Alive. Both of them, somehow, here and alive. When Jim didn’t even think Spock could find him.

On bare feet, Spock approaches him, kneeling at his level before Jim musters the strength to stand. The warm thrum of his mind meets Jim’s, and Jim smiles softly as Spock’s hand lands on his arm, where the bruise of Sybok’s touch still lingers.

They don’t speak as Spock squeezes him slightly, then leans forward and reaches behind him to untie the binds at Jim’s wrists. As Jim tucks his nose into Spock’s hair, he breathes in the sweet aroma of Vulcan flowers and the sharp scent of war paint.

When the ropes fall from his wrists, Jim lets out a little hitched breath, what might have been a laugh if adrenaline weren’t still pumping him full of anxiety. Flexing his fingers, he sits up straight, and Spock pulls away. Jim almost regrets the loss of contact before Spock’s hands find one of his wrists, rubbing gently as if to return feeling to the numbed appendage. But this touch is as much for Spock’s sake as it is for his own — Spock’s fear fading with the proof that Jim is still here.

“Spock,” Jim says, finally laying his free hand over Spock’s to still his movements. Something in Spock’s expression softens.

“Jim,” he says gently, “I am grateful we found you unharmed. If he had hurt you, I would have torn his limbs from his body with my bare hands.”

Jim smiles, letting out a breath. “Is that how you say ‘I love you’ in Vulcan?”

The joke dampens the fire still burning in Spock’s eyes, and his shoulders release a bit of their tension. Around them, the soldiers move, phasers drawn as they clear the near hallway, but Jim isn’t paying attention to them.

“In fact, in Vulcan the phrase would be ‘I ashaya du,’” Spock corrects him, and Jim smirks, his heart finally figuring out how to beat its normal rhythm again.

“So, anything you want to say to me?” he asks with a wan but playful smile.

“I ashaya du, t’hy’la,” Spock replies softly. His hands find Jim’s, palms pressing together, and Jim glances around — glad for a moment it’s all Terran soldiers milling about and no Vulcans who might recognize the gesture.

“Jim,” Spock says, and Jim looks to him once more. “Need I remind you, this plan was predicated on the fact that we have a fiercely powerful mental bond? I do not believe any of our soldiers will be surprised by this.” He nods to their hands, a delicate little smile on his lips, and from somewhere nearby comes a snort that sounds suspiciously like Jim’s guard commander.

But when Jim casts an accusatory look at Sulu, the man’s head is bowed, his hands on Sybok’s shoulders while another guard moves to the rebel leader’s feet.

“A fiercely powerful mental bond, sure,” Jim agrees, looking back to his lover. Spock is still smiling. “But you’re being awfully romantic right now. Can’t deny that might ruin your reputation.”

Spock’s responding smile is indulgent, and Jim knows looking into his eyes — Spock couldn’t care less about his reputation right now. It’s a small salve of relief.

“Bond or not, how—” Jim pauses, the smile slipping from his own lips. “I couldn’t feel you. How did you find me? I thought with my head fogged up from the stun beam you wouldn’t be able to—”

Spock brings a hand to Jim’s cheek, silencing him with the look in his eyes.  “I could find you anywhere. In any darkness, through any challenge. In any universe.”

Jim huffs, ducking his head and leaning into Spock’s touch. “I’m glad you found me in this one,” he says, and raises his eyes to Spock’s once more.

It doesn’t startle Jim when Spock leans in — the intention floats through his mind before Spock even makes a move —  so as Spock’s lips find Jim’s own and he shifts forward on the ground, as his fingers lace between Jim’s, Jim welcomes him closer with a breathy sigh. Every atom of them that meets buzzes with delight, the warm feeling of their connection curling into them once more. Jim fights the temptation of a smile as he licks between Spock’s lips, free hand finding the back of Spock’s head and pulling him in. But just as the warm hum of Spock’s thoughts takes on a different and supremely tempting tenor, a throat clears from somewhere beside them.

It takes a herculean effort to break away, but somehow they both manage to pull back.

Jim looks up into Sulu’s warm brown eyes. Though there’s a definite smirk playing over Sulu’s lips — likely at the very obvious blush creeping over Jim’s cheeks — Sulu maintains as much professionalism as Jim can expect of him. He bows as if to hide his expression. “Pardon me, Your Highness, Sa-te’kru,” he says formally. “We should get you both out of here while we clear the area. There may still be a threat — it’s a large compound.”

Jim and Spock exchange a look Jim could only call sheepish, a green flush dancing over Spock’s cheeks as well. It’s a blessing, Jim thinks, that the Vulcans aren’t seeing this. He doubts a single Vulcan warrior would let their great sa-te’kru forget they saw him blushing. “What do you say, sa-te’kru?” Jim asks, holding out his hand for Spock to take. “Feel like celebrating your victory elsewhere?”

Clasping their hands, Spock rises to his feet and pulls Jim up in-turn. Though Jim’s still a little wobbly from being bound for three hours, he finds feeling returning to his toes. “ Our victory,” Spock corrects him, and he glances to Sulu at their side. Jim follows his gaze, watching the Terran soldiers carting Sybok and his guard out of the room and down the empty hallway.

“Our victory, then,” Jim agrees with a grin. With a smile of his own, Spock tugs Jim forward and toward the far door. Jim sticks close — not because the hallway ahead might be narrow or because he needs Spock’s support to stand on his own, but because he can. Because he wants to.

“Thank you, Spock,” he says quietly as they step over the threshold. Beyond them, the corridor lies crowded with some soldiers kneeling at the unconscious forms of Vulcan rebels, binding their hands behind their backs. They weave through the bustle as they pass, hands still clasped, and they bypass the soldiers entirely after a few moments, their steps echoing in the long, dark, winding corridor.

“I should be thanking you ,” Spock says. “It was your plan that led us to Sybok’s base, after all these years. It was your courage that incapacitated him long enough for me to stun him.”

Ducking his head, Jim huffs out a little laugh, born of relief more than humor. “Element of surprise. He certainly didn’t expect a Terran to fight him.”

“Nor did he expect a Vulcan to negotiate,” Spock returns, and Jim laughs again, squeezing Spock’s hand tight. A warm hum of comfort and contentment buzzes up his arm from their contact, dancing over each of his nerves and winding into his mind.

“But you did,” Jim says. “And, more importantly, you didn’t kill him.”

Casting a covert glance beside him, Jim doesn’t fail to notice the tightening of Spock’s lips, nor the sense of dissatisfaction slipping across the stream of their bond. “I did not,” Spock says. “It was not only your wish that we forego bloodshed, but your planet’s. I would have taken each rebel’s life if I had done this alone. However,” Spock pauses, his feet slowing to a stop as he shakes his head and Jim turns more fully toward him. Down the corridor, waves of oppressive Vulcan heat ride a meager breeze. The deep russet glow of near-sunset colors the corridor in red, gleaming like embers in the dark shine of Spock’s eyes.

“I wish to prove to Terra that compromises may be made,” Spock finally continues, lifting his eyes to Jim’s. “I will not squander your planet’s friendship, nor…” His hand tightens slightly around Jim’s own. “Nor would I disrespect my bondmate’s wishes. I can take honor in this, if not in the outcome of our battle.”

In spite of the weight of those words, Jim’s lips break into a smile. Spock is disappointed. Of course he is; the thought of exacting revenge on his brother has consumed him for months. But this disappointment wavers weakly over their link, tremulous and fleeting. And the love in Spock’s mind overshadows it completely.

“Bondmate,” Jim tests the word on this tongue, enjoying its sound. “What does that mean, exactly?”

“Whatever we want it to mean,” Spock replies, and he tugs Jim forward once again, the two of them making their way further down the hall. Squeezing his fingers, Jim regards his lover in the warm, dim light, ignoring the cacophony of bustling soldiers and hovering transports outside, ignoring the weight of responsibility that awaits him the moment he steps over that threshold.

“And how will your subjects feel about you taking a human for a bondmate?” Jim asks. “I’m sorry — a ‘weak Terran,’ I should say.”

Amusement washes over Jim as they step out into the low, burning sunlight of the waning day. Two massive Terran ships and a whole complement of Vulcan shuttles wait uncloaked right outside, with many more soldiers flitting about as they cart prisoners onto the ships. “If anyone suggests they find you weak,” Spock says, “or suggests I am weaker for your presence, I will ensure they are well aware of not only my strength, but the strength we share. I am not afraid”

“Stronger together after all,” Jim muses, nudging Spock’s shoulder with his own. Spock turns to him, giving him a warm, genuine smile.

“Sa-te’kru,” a voice shouts, and they turn in tandem to see Spock’s ot-lan, T’Pring, jogging toward them over the sand. “Your Highness,” she addresses Jim as she approaches, ducking into a quick bow. “The Terran royal family has arrived in Shi’kahr with Ambassador Grayson. They request you — both of you — join them as soon as you are able.”

Spock doesn’t show the surprise on his face, but his hand clenches in Jim’s own and a jolt fires over their connection.

“Ambassador Amanda Grayson?” Spock asks, and T'Pring gives him a bemused sort of look.

“Yes, Sa-te'kru,” she says gently. But of course she wouldn't know what this means. She wouldn't know Spock hasn't seen his mother in decades.

“Then let’s not keep them waiting,” Jim says, rescuing Spock as much as he is able. “Ot-lan, my shuttle was, well — can we take one of yours?”

“Of course, Your Highness. Please send more once you have arrived in Shi’kahr. There are more prisoners than we anticipated.” She pauses. “An army of fools.” At this she gives Spock a playful, sideways smile, as if secrets are dancing behind the thin line of her lips, and Spock relaxes slightly beside Jim.

“We will send more shuttles,” Spock replies. “Thank you, T’Pring.”

“Of course, Sa-te'kru. I will not detain you further.” With that, she turns her smile to Jim, something knowing in her eyes, before wheeling around to return to her ask’er, a group of Vulcan warriors returning from the other side of the compound.

“I believe our celebration may have to wait,” Spock says, looking to Jim once more. “If we are to speak with your family first.”

“Oh, Spock,” Jim chuckles, pulling him forward. He leans on Spock’s shoulder as they walk, hand-in-hand, toward the shuttles. “We just won a war . Cemented an alliance . Trust me; this is the celebration.”

And if Spock feels nervous — which he does — he exudes only calm strength and regality as he and Jim stride across the sands of Spock’s planet. Spock may face derision for this; he may face discontentment among his people; he may face the prospect of confronting his own humanity even as he leads Vulcan into a new age. But in the currents of his mind, there lies a growing sense of pride and certainty. Strength.

A smile pulls at Jim's lips.

Whatever may await them next, they rise to meet it together.

Chapter Text

Epilogue: Five Days

 

I.

 

When Spock was young, when his mother would visit Vulcan in a solitary shuttle in the secret dark of night, they would often sit together on the floor of her little ship, while Sarek looked on with a proud smile, his hand laying gentle on Amanda’s back.

She would tell Spock all about Earth, about her home in San Francisco, a PADD on the carpet between them. Spock remembers her fingertip sliding across the screen as she scrolled through pictures, though the pictures themselves are just foggy memories now.

“On sunny days, the sky is blue as you can imagine,” she would say, smiling at a photo depicting fluffy streaks of white clouds over a light cobalt sky, the spired tips of skyscrapers just visible in the frame below. “Bright and endless, like you could just fall right into it. But when the storm clouds roll in, it all goes silver. I wish you could see it; stand in the rain with me.”

Spock has never felt the rain. Spock has never seen a storm cloud like the ones on Earth. But as he walks with Jim into the negotiation room — as he stops stock still and meets his mother’s eyes — as he looks upon her for the first time in more than 20 years, the swimming silver-blue shine of them feels like a stormy sky.

He does not speak directly to her. The room is full of Terran dignitaries, including the king, queen and crown prince, and as they rush to sweep Jim into their arms and congratulate the two of them on their victory, Spock feels cornered, ambushed, exhausted. He cannot speak to his mother now. He can barely stand to remain in this room.

Only a few hours ago, he felt his bondmate fall unconscious, Jim’s mind retreating to a place Spock could not follow. But he did follow, somehow, their connection laid out like breadcrumbs leading home, like the Earth fairytales of runaway children his mother used to read him. Spock has still not recovered from the fear that he might not find Jim at the end of that trail, though Jim stands beside him now, a gentle presence at his side. A gentle hand on the small of his back.

Earth’s monarchs suggest they rest, he and Jim. They suggest the declaration of alliance may be signed tomorrow. They suggest the Terrans might take care of processing prisoners in the meantime. Spock does not fight them on this. He has been fighting his whole life. Now, he wants to allow himself their help.

He does not meet his mother’s eyes again as he and Jim leave the room. They will have time to speak — if he decides he is willing to speak. If he decides there is anything to say.

 


 

“I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve been in your rooms,” Jim remarks as they enter, a cheery tone, though his voice weighs with exhaustion. “All you’re missing is a bowl of grapes and a bunch of servants to fan you with palm leaves.”

The door slides shut behind them and Spock glances around, attempting to see the room through Jim’s eyes. While the sa-te’kru of the planet Vulcan may not wear trappings and ornamentation, he may award himself certain luxuries. This room is full of them — stone sculptures of sehlats and le’matyas set up at the room’s corners, gold inlay running through the stone walls in geometric patterns, a bed in a divot in the center of the floor piled with plush cushions and chiffon sheets bearing hand-embroidered designs. The window that runs the length of the far wall, staring out over the city, boasts a seating area fit for a party of many, though it often sits empty, and the feature of the room Spock most uses lies empty, too: A bathing tub, carved into the polished stone of the floor, deep and inviting with a view of Shi’kahr before it.

“And here I thought the room you gave me was luxurious. I only have a sonic shower,” Jim says with a chuckle. Spock reaches for him, and Jim takes his hand — a small gesture as meaningful as any Spock could imagine.

“Water is scarce in a desert,” Spock explains. “We tend to be sparing, though the sa-te’kru affords himself whichever indulgences he pleases.”

“Clearly,” Jim says with a soft chuckle. “And I think we both deserve a bit of indulgence after the day we’ve had, don’t you?”

Spock gives him a small smile, gives him the mental gift of relief and warmth and love flowing over their bond, and he draws Jim over to the tub.

It takes little time to fill it with water, with soaps and perfumes, until the suds mount and climb over each other into white peaks streaked with pink oils. Steam rises from its surface, gleaming and dancing in the sunset sunlight drawing its deep red curtain over the sky.

They strip down slow and easy, Jim helping Spock with the fastening of his armor at the nape of his neck, Spock undoing the buckle at Jim’s belt with soft, careful hands. And they don’t speak. They don’t really need to.

But when they settle down into the tub, Jim lets out a sigh and Spock releases the tension he has held in his body since Jim’s mind blinked out of their bond. Jim pulls Spock against his chest, his legs on either side of Spock’s body, and they lean back together against the sloped wall of the tub.

Outside the window before them, the hue of the warm vermillion sky deepens with the onset of twilight, and there is no sound but their breath, the steady drip of the faucet. Vulcans should not crave peace, but Spock longs for this kind of serenity — a lifetime of Jim’s arms around him, Jim’s warm breath on his neck as he cuddles closer.

They soak for a while, Spock leaning heavy against Jim’s chest with his chin just peeking over the dappling of soap suds over the water, but soon Jim’s hand comes to the shaved side of Spock’s head, where the streaks of war paint have left their red mark, and he begins to rub and massage with such delicate familiarity that it could bring tears to Spock’s eyes if Spock felt strong enough to cry. The water runs pink with paint, dripping down Spock’s neck and chest, pooling in the soap on the water’s surface. Spock hums in contentment, pressing back against Jim a little harder.

With a soft chuckle, Jim continues his ministrations, dragging wet fingers through heavy locks of Spock’s wet hair, cleaning the dust and paint of battle from him.

“I love you,” Jim whispers, a kiss landing on the crown of Spock’s head. “T’hy’la.”

His accent stumbles imperfectly over the word, as when he faltered over Spock’s title all those years ago, but Spock smiles, letting out a breath of tension and sinking slightly in the warm water. He reaches up to take one of Jim’s hands, threading his fingers through Jim’s own.

“T’hy’la,” he echoes. It is all they need to say.

 

II.

The alliance between Vulcan and Earth begins as their war ended — with a ceremony. It begins with the newly crowned Sa-te’kru signing a document proclaiming that he trusts in the friendship and loyalty of his Terran allies. It begins with Earth’s newly appointed ambassador to Vulcan — Prince James himself — giving a speech to a crowded ceremonial hall about how they are each of them stronger together. Jim smiles at Spock as he talks, as if Spock is the only other person in the room. Though Spock is surrounded by his clan leaders, Earth’s monarchs and advisors, by journalists from every corner of the quadrant, by Vulcan citizens come to size up their new allies.

Spock wishes it were only he and Jim. They have had precious little alone time today, since they woke up in the early hours of this morning and began preparations for the alliance, for the ceremony, for the eyes of the galaxy to turn their way, they have been drawn in different directions.

But the sun hangs low outside the large windows, gleaming through tinted glass to cast rainbows along the floor, and the ceremony hall is ringing with applause and Jim steps down from the dais and moves in Spock’s direction — and Spock smiles at him. His lover, his bondmate, his t’hy’la. He knows this diplomatic frenzy will not last forever.

There will be a celebration after this — servants have already entered the hall with trays of drinks and steaming platters of food, and the band has begun playing its music off in the corner — but Spock wants to steal Jim away, wants to drag him into an empty corridor or the back of the library or a curtained alcove, wants to be reckless and wanting as they were when they were young.

But as Spock reaches out and Jim takes his hand, a warm thrum of delight tingling up his arm from the contact, he feels in the touch of Jim’s mind that they cannot act as they did as young men. Spock is now the ruler of a planet adjusting to a new alliance. Jim is now a full-fledged ambassador. They have responsibilities outside of each other.

“Later, I promise,” Jim says as he draws up to Spock. There’s a flirtatious half-smile on his lips, one Spock wishes desperately he could smother with a kiss. “Second all this is over, you can take me wherever you want.” The words come out a low whisper — Jim ever-mindful of the journalists everywhere, swarming like bees. The room’s attention has largely shifted their way; this relationship would be worth a scandal if he and Jim had dared to treat it with an ounce of shame or apology.

“I must remind myself this will only last a few days,” Spock replies. He squeezes Jim’s hand slightly. “I now see why my father tired so easily of Terra’s penchant for long diplomatic discussions.”

“You saying you didn’t like my speech?” Jim asks, a tease tugging his lips into a wide grin. He’s beautiful in the warm, golden light, rainbows dancing over his cheeks. In Jim’s mind, Spock senses Jim’s own awe, Jim’s own delight at Spock’s smile, too.

“Your speech,” Spock replies, “has been the only enjoyable aspect of this whole affair.” He casts his free hand over the room. Jim follows the gesture with a look, but his eyes catch — his grin falters — and a note of worry seeps in over their bond. Staring at him, Spock cannot fathom what about the crowd could cause the thoughtful look that now takes over Jim’s face, but he hears the answer even as he asks the question.

His own stomach falls, and Spock turns to follow the line of Jim’s sight.

“Hello, Spock,” Amanda says. Spock does not know how he did not see her approaching, except that his bondmate is often the most distracting element of any room. Jim squeezes his hand.

“I’ll let you two talk,” Jim says. Spock doesn’t release his hand, however, his grip tightening.

“That is not necessary,” Spock says. “Anything the former ambassador wishes to tell me, she can say in front of you.” There is ice in his voice, but he tries not to let on that he can feel Jim’s disappointment in his mind.

Amanda’s brows draw together, but she keeps the calm, diplomatic smile on her face, well-practiced, even years after her retirement. “Of course, Sa-te’kru,” she says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt —“

“You’re not interrupting, Amanda,” Jim puts in quickly, shooting Spock a look. “I should go talk to the journalists, anyway.” When Spock meets Jim’s eyes, they’re staring pointedly at him. Spock can hide nothing from his t’hy’la. This is both a blessing and a curse.

Reluctantly, Spock releases Jim’s hand. “I’ll track you down later, sweetheart,” Jim says, an apology floating over their bond.

Just talk to her , a voice in his mind whispers. He cannot tell if it is Jim’s or his own.

“Very well, ashayam,” Spock says, and Jim offers him a slight smile before he turns away and folds into the crowd. Then, it is simply Amanda — his mother — standing there and smiling gently at him as she did so long ago. Spock has been able to avoid her today, as he avoided her yesterday, but he should have known he could not avoid her forever.

“‘Ashayam,’ huh?” she echoes softly, something far away in her expression. “I haven’t heard that word in a long time.” Spock holds her eyes.

When it becomes clear that he will not be the first to speak, Amanda sighs, her shoulders falling slightly. “Can we talk? Privately?” she asks, nodding toward the door. Spock glances over the room — Jim has been cornered by reporters with holo-recorders in their hands, distracting them so Spock may speak with his mother alone. By the tension in Jim’s eyes, Spock knows it is a sacrifice. Vulcans admire sacrifice, and he will not waste Jim’s.

“We may,” Spock replies, and he moves toward the door without another word. This is his mother. She deserves more than he is giving her. But he cannot help but think that he deserved more than what she gave him, too.

 


 

It is only moments later that Spock breathes in the warm evening air of the garden, using the steady in-and-out of his lungs to calm himself as his mother steps up beside him. The door to the palace closes behind them, and Spock takes his first few steps down the stairs, trusting Amanda to walk with him.

She does, in silence for a few moments. Then, finally, she takes in a deep breath, too. “Have you spoken to Sybok yet?” She asks, seemingly out of nowhere. Spock nearly misses a stair as he glances to her, but regains himself quickly. Nearly 20 years, and this is her first question.

“No,” he replies coldly. “I do not trust myself not to kill him when I see him. Jim has requested Sybok be awarded a fair trial. I … should respect his wishes.”

Amanda nods sagely beside him as they step onto the cobbled stone of the main garden’s open yard. The night-blooming flowers in their thick stone planters are beginning to open their buds, but petals still cling tight to each other, waiting for that sun to leave them in the dark, where it’s safe.

“I think Jim is right,” Amanda says. “But that’s the diplomat in me talking. The rest — well. I understand why you want to hurt Sybok. I’ve had to force myself not to feel the same.”

“Why?” Spock asks; the question fires off like a beam of phaser fire. Amanda startles beside him, steps slowing on the path.

“‘ Why ?’ He killed Sarek, Spock.”

“You had not seen Sarek in many years before his death,” Spock replies, turning his eyes toward the horizon past the garden, if only to avoid the probing gray eyes of his mother. “You cannot tell me you miss him.”

“I can, and I do,” Amanda says, voice hard. “He was ripped from my mind, Spock. In the middle of the night. After 34 years . Of course I miss him.”

Spock stops dead in his tracks, cold trickling down his spine as it freezes him in place. Amanda walks forward a few paces, her shoulders tight before she turns to him. He cannot decipher the expression on her face. Agony and anger fighting for supremacy, and neither winning.

“Your bond remained intact?” Spock manages to ask. “After all that time?” Something dark curls into his gut, at the thought. If Jim were severed from his mind now … he cannot bear to imagine how it might feel after decades.

As silence falls between them for a moment, a breeze blows past. It seems to smooth out the edges of Amanda’s anger, like a storm weathering away a mountain. When it dies, it leaves only the lingering grief in her eyes.

“Of course it did,” Amanda says, quiet and soft, the ice gone from her tone. “I never — Spock you have to know I never stopped loving him. Loving you.” She purses her lips and shakes her head, glancing down. Before her, she holds her hands gently, as if craving the comfort of touch that humans need when they are hurt. As if she knows Spock cannot give her that comfort himself. “This is my fault,” she continues eventually. “You would have known, if I had stayed. If I had visited again after that … that last time.”

Spock swallows, hands clenching at his sides. “I know why you left,” he says. “When we melded … I knew then as I know now. It is not your fault, but my father’s and my own. I have been angry with you for many years, but I do not blame you.”

“You — you blame yourself ?” Amanda asks, her eyes meeting Spock’s with a new kind of anguish. “Oh, Spock, I —”

“I was not enough to make you stay,” he says simply. “I was not human enough to be the son you desired, nor Vulcan enough to be the son my father desired. I understand this must have caused tension between the two of you. I chose to be Vulcan, to reject my humanity. You felt fault in that. I cannot blame you for it.”

Amanda takes a step forward, hand reaching out, though it doesn’t go far before she pulls it back against her chest. “I — I understood that, Spock. I did. You’ve always been told your humanity was a weakness. That I was. It’s how you were raised, and you have to know it’s not your fault that you believed it.”

“But it hurt you,” Spock says, and something in his chest aches with those words. He clenches his teeth against the feeling. How many people has he hurt because he did not understand? His mother, his father, his lovers — Jim. “ I hurt you,” he says. His voice sounds weak.

A human might apologize now, but Vulcans cannot apologize. Vulcans cannot show weakness. The only apologies he has ever offered were to his father’s burning corpse and his lover’s lips. But this is his mother . He does not understand why he cannot form the words now.

“I won’t pretend you didn’t hurt me,” she says. “But I never blamed you. Please don’t blame yourself. I could have endured it — the way you and your father felt about humanity, about me — and I chose not to. This is my baggage as much as yours.”

Spock considers this, eyes falling to the garden path. With a deep breath, he begins to walk again, passing his mother and moving toward the fountain in the center of the courtyard. Its sound soothes him, the cooling salve of running water. And as he stands at its edge, its ripples remind him of Jim. There is comfort there, too.

Footsteps approach behind him. After a moment’s hesitation, a small, delicate hand lands on his bare shoulder. No outworlder should risk a touch like this with a Vulcan, but this is his mother. And he feels her heartache through the contact.

“I did not understand,” Spock says quietly, and he lays his hand over hers, his head bowed. “My humanity has never made me weak. Only when I denied it — suppressed it. It has taken me many years to learn.”

She doesn’t respond right away. Rather, she squeezes his shoulder slightly. “Because of Jim?” She asks finally. There is no judgement there.

Spock can only nod.

“I’m glad you found each other,” she says after a moment. He turns to her, and her hand falls back to her side. “You seem happy together. You really do.”

“We are,” Spock replies. “But we would not be if I had refused to change. He has taught me to — to reconcile aspects of myself that I thought would always exist in conflict.” Though he has not thought of it in so many words, he realizes as he says it that it’s true. He always believed his humanity would fight with his Vulcan heritage, a never-ending battle inside of him. But it was both that ended the war. Human and Vulcan. Love and strength.

“So can … can we reconcile, too?” Amanda asks. “With the alliance, I could come to visit now. Without suspicion. Without having to hide.”

“Is that what you want?” Somehow, Spock thought she might have grown distant from her love for him. But he should have known better. He has always felt the love in her. He feels it now.

“If you’re willing. I’d like to know you again. But if you’re worried that your subjects may find out about, well, about your birth —“

“That does not concern me,” Spock says, waving a dismissive hand. Amanda’s eyes widen slightly.

“It doesn’t?”

“No,” Spock says. His eyes travel from his mother’s eyes to the garden — his garden, in his palace, where the flora of his planet grow strong and reach toward the sky. His sky. “My people will follow me. They will accept my human bondmate, and they will accept my human mother. Earth and Vulcan are allies now; it feels only appropriate that the first sa-te’kru of this new age should be the child of both worlds.”

As he speaks, a small smile spreads over Amanda’s lips, her eyes gleaming in the warm light. “You’ve grown so much, Spock. I’m — I’m looking forward to getting to know you.”

He swallows, nods, glances away. His mother may be able to see through him, even as he tightens his lips and attempts to force his expression into the façade of strength he’s worn his whole life. But somehow he doesn’t mind if she sees through him. He has hidden so much from so many people, and he is tired of hiding. For once, he might just wish to be himself.

“I look forward to — to getting to know you as well.” He pauses. “Mother.”

The word has to force itself from his lips, but it is a start. When he looks back to Amanda, she is smiling. A single tear rolls down her cheek, leaving a golden streak in the golden light.

 

III.

Jim offered to come with him, and Spock refused. He doesn’t understand why, now, as he descends the narrow, twisting staircase. Motion-activated lights above flick on as he walks, but the path ahead is dark. He doesn’t know how deep the dungeons lie. It has been a very long time since Vulcan royalty have taken prisoners.

If Jim were here, he might make a joke about the dramatic lack of light, disregarding that of course the staircase is kept dark to save energy. He likes to tease Spock about Vulcan drama, usually in the mornings when Spock is wrapped around him, complaining that Jim keeps trying to move when Spock is so comfortable.

The thought makes Spock smile slightly, in spite of his solemn destination. He woke up with Jim again today. The second morning in a row. The second of many mornings like this. Jim will stay on this planet as long as he desires, and Spock has been able to feel the intention of forever in Jim’s mind.

It is this that gives Spock the strength to continue down the stairs. Because he should do this for Jim. For himself. So he can be the kind of man that Jim deserves.

The lights flicker on the landing, where a low-ceilinged stone room opens up before him. Two guards stand at each side of the staircase, both turning to Spock as he approaches.

“Sa-te’kru!” One nearly shouts, eyes widening. She smacks her cohort on his arm and they both dip into a short bow.

“Do not trouble yourselves with me,” Spock says, waving a dismissive hand. “I have only come to speak to the prisoner.” They trade glances. “Sybok,” he clarifies.

“Oh — of course, Sa-te’kru,” the first guard says. She waves her phaser rifle toward the other end of the room where a thick stone door blocks the way, its blue command screen gleaming too bright in the room’s dim light. Nearly every room in the palace has windows, and in their absence this claustrophobic stone chamber seems to weigh heavy on Spock’s shoulders. “Through there. First cell. We wanted him accessible. And away from the other rebels.”

“Good,” Spock says. He passes them and lays his hand on the command screen, waiting as the door slides open. “I do not wish to be disturbed,” he adds over the sound of scraping stone. In his periphery, both guards straighten.

“Of course, Sa-te’kru,” the first says again. Spock does not spare another thought to the deferential trepidation in her voice, or the nervous look her fellow shoots her way. Instead, he crosses the threshold, head held high.

Before him, a veritable city of cells line a long, winding hallway with a running track of bright white lights shining from the ceiling. He has been down here before, many years ago as he explored the palace as a child, but he has never seen the force-fields over the cells erect. Now, they glimmer and gleam in the light. Some prisoners stand near those fields, talking with each other across the hallway. Other cells look empty, their occupants likely resting on their cots or tucked into a corner, licking their wounds.

But as Spock walks forward, eyes on that first cell, he finds he doesn’t care about anyone in this prison but the one he came to see.

Sybok sits on his bed, raised off the floor with tall metal struts. His feet rest solidly on the ground, his hands on his thighs, and for all the world it looks as though he has been waiting. When Spock approaches the force-field and Sybok’s eyes lift up to his, he knows, instinctively, that Sybok has been expecting him. Maybe for the last two days.

“Brother,” Sybok says without surprise.

“Brother,” Spock replies. They pause, a stalemate.

After a long, heavy moment, Sybok sighs, tossing his hands. “ Bath’paik , if you came here to gloat I request you not waste my time. I am a busy man.”

Spock glances around Sybok’s cell, empty but for the bed and a small hygienic nook in the corner. He raises a skeptical eyebrow. “Busy?” he asks, and derision drips from his tone. “With what?”

“Planning my revenge, of course,” Sybok says with a laugh. “My grand escape.”

“You will have a lifetime to plan,” Spock replies. “Once your trial has ended, you may only look forward to exile and imprisonment.”

Sybok shrugs. “The planning itself will sustain me. I spent years planning Sarek’s death, and now I can plan yours. It gives me purpose. You would not take away a man’s purpose, would you?”

Spock stares at him for a moment, this man who was once his brother. In that moment, he imagines Sybok as he once was — his bright dark eyes, sharp with intellect, his weapon at Spock’s throat after their first sparring match, a smile dancing over his lips at his victory, though Spock was just a child then. Just a child who wanted to look up to his older brother, and couldn’t. Was never allowed.

“I have a request,” Spock says suddenly, and Sybok’s eyebrows shoot up, a disbelieving little laugh falling from his parted lips.

“A request? From me ? I don’t know what I can do for you, brother, nor why you think I would answer your request .”

Spock tucks his hands behind his back, chest out, chin held high — a show of strength he does not need to present to the man he defeated. He does anyway.

“You will tell me why.”

“Why?” Sybok asks. He crosses his arms over his chest, leaning back against the wall. “You’ll have to be more specific, brother.”

“Why you rebelled. Why you hated our father and why you hate me. This is not about the Terrans, is it? Has it ever been about the Terrans?” When Sybok rolls his eyes, Spock takes a pointed step closer to the force-field, hands clenching hard behind his back. “Surely you can tell me now,” he says, quieter but no less fierce.

“Now that I have been defeated?” Sybok asks bitterly. “By you and your damned human pet?”

“He is my t’hy’la,” Spock says with surety, even as Sybok scoffs. “You will not demean him in my presence.”

“You —“ Sybok begins with a growl. “You are exactly like our father. I could never ‘demean’ his precious Amanda. I could never ‘demean’ his precious half-breed son.” He spits at the ground, harsh eyes returning to Spock’s.  “You want to know why I have always hated you?”

“I do,” Spock replies.

“Because you are not Vulcan. Even now, as you rule my planet and drive it to ruin, I can see your mother in your eyes. I hate you because you did not deserve our father’s favor. I hate you because he gave it to you anyway. All because he cared for your human mother, and saw something worthy in your humanity, too. There has never been anything worthy in you. You know this as well as I do. It should be me on that throne.”

“And yet, I am sa-te’kru, and you are not.” Sybok’s eyes harden as Spock draws his back straighter. “ I am the leader of this planet, and its citizens follow me gladly. Do not blame me for your own weakness, Sybok.”

My weakness?” Sybok shouts. He shoots to his feet and takes two long strides toward the force-field. Fists raised, Sybok throws himself hard against the pane, energy sparking like lightning through it, and Spock stands still in the face of his anger, unflinching. “ Your humanity is not my weakness.”

“Your jealousy is,” Spock explains. “I was once jealous of you. You had no secrets. No heritage to hide. But this jealousy did not serve me, and so I discarded it. Your jealousy has led you to ruin.”

Sybok’s eyes are wild, his lips curled in a snarl that looks feral and beastly behind the flickering field. But as Spock holds his eyes unwavering, Sybok turns away — submission.

“And your weakness has led you to success,” Sybok says. “I do not understand it. I will never understand it.”

“You make the mistake I have made most of my life,” Spock says. “My humanity is not my weakness. My weakness is, and has always been, the same as my father’s.”

Sybok glances over his shoulder, and in spite of himself he looks curious.

“Love,” Spock replies. A silence settles. “But even this I have turned into a weapon to strike you.”

Sybok sneers, looking away. “It is because of love that you left me alive, Sa-te’kru .” He hisses the title like a k'karee. “And someday you will regret it.”

“You still believe you can kill me? From inside a cell?”

With a snort of derision, or maybe humor, Sybok looks to him again. Those eyes feel so familiar. In spite of the wiry beard and delta wrinkles branching from his eyes, he looks, for a moment, like he did when he was a teenager, sitting with Spock on the floor of his chamber and helping Spock brush I-Chaya’s fur — one of the few moments of peace between them that Spock can recall.

“No cell will hold me forever, brother,” Sybok promises.

Spock does not know what he expected. A Vulcan would not admit to defeat, least of all Sybok. He will fight until he dies. However he dies. But he will not die by Spock’s hand.

“I will see you at your trial, Sybok,” Spock says with a finality he doesn’t feel, a closure he did not receive. Something churns in his gut, resentment, anger, guilt, pain. After all these years he still bears guilt. Still bears pain.

“I wish you had killed me,” Sybok says on a sigh. He closes his eyes, shakes his head. “I would rather next see you in Sha Ka Ree.”

 

IV.

 

Blue light dances over the sheets, casting deep shadows at every wrinkle, and Spock lays a hand in the space beside him. Fingers dig dark divots into the cushion, but in the next moment he drags a flat hand over it to ease it back into place. In the silence of his empty rooms, he marvels at the simple feeling of loneliness, how far away it has felt these last few days as Jim has slept by his side, as they have woken up in each other’s arms.

Spock has not been sleeping, though it is late enough that he feels he likely could. No, he returned to his chamber himself only an hour ago, after a long day spent organizing the prisoners’ trials and coordinating his forces — all of whom are now dedicated to tracking down any remaining agents that slipped through their grasp.

But Spock hoped upon retiring for the night that he might be greeted by the familiar sight of his lover. Jim, it seemed, had his own duties to attend to. In Jim’s absence and the yawning dark of the room, Spock laid down to rest.

He feels Jim in his mind now, his exhaustion and his gentle contentment, his own anxiousness to retire, and Spock closes his eyes once more, sending something across the thread of their connection. It might be a question: Where are you? It might be a request: Come to bed. It might just be an intention, a feeling, a desire to see his lover after less than a full day apart. How had he ever managed five years?

The door chimes in the middle of these thoughts, and Spock shoots up in bed. The amusement humming through him is not his own, but he smiles anyway. “Open,” he says, and the door obeys his command, sliding into its berth and revealing the sight of Jim in the shadowed blue night, his white teeth gleaming in a smile.

“Hey sweetheart,” he says, and Spock’s whole body relaxes. Sweetheart, he has come to know, means what t’hy’la means to him. It is Jim’s way of reminding him of their bond, though with Jim’s love thrumming across their connection as he approaches, Spock does not require a reminder.

Spock holds out a hand, reaching for his bondmate almost childishly, and Jim laughs like birdsong, kicking off his shoes and making his way toward the bed. “I take it you missed me?”

“I expected you here when I returned,” Spock says simply. Jim’s lips twist in a wry smile as he steps down onto the cushions, coming to join Spock where he’s reclining against them. Jim lays beside him, splaying a hand on Spock’s bare stomach and running it up to his chest. A warm buzz of delight slips through his fingertips, and Spock smiles.

“What, you think I just wait around naked in your bedroom for you to finish your business and do what you want with me?” Jim asks with a little chuckle. “I have a job too, you know.”

“You have been working with the Terrans all day?” Spock asks, threading his fingers through Jim’s and holding his hand against Spock’s own chest. It’s where a human heartbeat would be if Spock had a human heart, but Jim seems satisfied by the simple rise and fall of Spock’s breath.

All day,” Jim chuckles. “They’ve got no idea how to handle all the resources you’re offering us. This alliance might be the best thing to happen to our planet since sliced bread.” He leans his head against Spock’s shoulder. There’s discomfort over their bond — the tight waistband of Jim’s slacks digging into his stomach, the clench of the collar around his throat too tight, but they both ignore it for now.

“Your family is pleased?”

“Over the moon,” Jim assures him. “The Klingons have drawn back from our borders entirely. For the first time in decades.” He flashes a smile, tugging happily at Spock’s chest hair. “They’re running scared. We’ve ended one war and prevented another, you and me.”

Glee humming through him, Spock rolls toward his lover, taking Jim’s lips in a kiss as he presses him back against the pillows. Jim’s hands come up to thread through Spock’s hair, and he returns the kiss through his smile. A little noise peeps out from between Jim’s lips, a sound that may have become a word if Spock dared to release his lover’s lips, but Spock swallows that sound and straddles Jim’s hips and licks into his mouth with the kind of desperate hunger he tends to feel each time they share a human kiss.

Hands roaming up Jim’s chest as Spock settles on his knees, Spock takes it upon himself to pull open the fastening at Jim’s throat, delighted when his Adam’s apple bobs in a hard swallow. Overcome with the desire to taste Jim’s skin, Spock trails his lips down Jim’s chin and jaw, down his neck.

“You are incredible, Jim,” Spock whispers against his throat. His voice feels raw, and it is only after he has spoken that he realizes he defaulted to the Vulcan language, his every guard and filter dropped. Jim’s fingers trace Spock’s hairline and move down his neck, massaging tiny circles into the tension there.

“So are you,” Jim responds in his own tongue. “I might be the luckiest man in the galaxy.”

Spock raises his head, then shuffles onto his knees so he can remove the rest of Jim’s shirt, quiet fingertips teasing open the fastenings. “Luck has nothing to do with why we are here.”

Jim’s hands come to Spock’s hips, then, untying the skirt at his waist. “I suppose not,” he says, flinging the fabric off to the side. “Though I can’t help feeling like we kind of stumbled blindly in the right direction, didn’t we?”

Jim does not say the word ‘mistake’ though Spock can feel it in him as Jim’s hands roam up and down his sides. It doesn’t offend him. They did make many mistakes. As Jim leans up and Spock peels the shirt from Jim’s shoulders, as Spock’s hands travel down Jim’s belly toward the waistband of his slacks, Spock recalls those mistakes. That first kiss in the garden, the ceaseless flirting that neither should have indulged for a moment, given their responsibilities, the frenzy of lovemaking after five years of distance, their inability to live without each other after.

They made many mistakes.

“We have made many mistakes,” Spock whispers, and Jim’s eyes widen, as if he hadn’t expected Spock to admit to it. Most Vulcans would not admit to their mistakes, but Spock is not like most Vulcans. And Jim will hold his weakness sacred, as he always has. “But I believe we made the right decision, in the end.”

Smiling up at him against the white backdrop of the cushions, Jim is beautiful, flushed from arousal and a hint of embarrassment as Spock nudges the slacks down his thighs. Warm with love and delight as Spock leans in once again, trailing his tongue up Jim’s chest. A hand fists in Spock’s hair, and Jim gasps as Spock’s lips fasten around a nipple.

“We chose each other,” Jim says, strained.

Spock rolls against him, enveloping him, opening his mind to the mind that pours into his own. “We chose each other,” he agrees.

That night, they make love slow and sweet, abandoning games and pretense, abandoning hurry or shame. And when Spock falls asleep with Jim in his mind and Jim’s touch lingering over his skin, peace settles within him. Peace unlike any he has ever known. Peace within which a Vulcan warrior should feel stifled.

But Spock, for the first time in his life, simply feels free.

 

V.

Five days pass after the operation to end Sybok’s rebellion. The trials are set for a month from now, on Earth, where the prisoners will now be transferred lest they sow any more seeds of discontent among the Vulcan people. The Terran ships have been stuffed to their capacity with the rebels, and with the dignitaries now boarding their shuttles to return home.

In a few minutes, the palace of Shi’kahr will be as quiet as it has ever been, and Spock stands on the red sands of his planet beside his lover, looking forward to the respite.

Before them, the final Terran shuttle waits with an open door, but Earth’s monarchs and their former ambassador haven’t boarded quite yet. Instead they all stand awkwardly by the door, casting looks at Jim as if none of them can quite believe how firmly he stands beside Spock, rooted in place on this planet that, somehow, has become a part of him as much as it is a part of Spock.

Winona’s eyes lie soft on the pair of them, and Spock manages to shift his own gaze to his own mother, noting a similar expression on her face. They have not had much time to talk, but they will. They have a lifetime of opportunities ahead of them.

Finally, George is the first to break the quiet. “Well. I guess — I guess we’ll see you on Earth in a month,” he says, drawing the attention of the group. It is appropriate he should be the first to speak. He seems far more eager to depart than the rest of them. “Jim, you’re sure you want to stay here for now?”

“I’m the ambassador to Vulcan,” Jim says with a little laugh. “And I’m barely even familiar with the planet’s capital. I have a lot to learn — a lot to see .”

Spock squeezes his hand.

“You’re going on vacation?” Prince Samuel asks, a note of envy in his voice. “ Now ?”

“It’s a diplomatic tour of the planet,” Jim corrects him, but the laugh humming over their bond clues Spock in. This will, indeed, be a vacation for them both, whatever they outwardly call it. “Don’t worry, we’ll be ready for the trials. I just want to — to get to know Vulcan.”

“As I wish to get to know Earth,” Spock puts in, “when the time comes.” His eyes drift toward Amanda’s. Her smile remains modest, quiet in front of her sovereigns. He wonders how much she recalls of the stories she used to tell him, the way she’d describe her home planet to a son she thought would never see it.

In a month, he will. Jim has promised to show him the redwood forests when they return to California — the ocean and the desert and the mountains. Jim has promised to share his world with him. Spock can do no less than accept, and share his own world in turn.

George nods, tugs the collar of his coat, likely stifled in the heat, and Jim releases Spock’s hand to wave his family — their family — away. “Alright, get going everyone. This isn’t goodbye. We’ll keep in touch.”

They pass around embraces, Jim wrapping his arms around each of his family in turn, and sparing a hug for Amanda as well. It is not the Vulcan way to share touch so casually, so Spock stands back, only a twinge of envy at the casual intimacy they all seem to share.

Then, the Terrans ascend the steps of their shuttle, stepping into shadow, and the stairs retract and the door slides shut. Spock has watched his mother leave on a shuttle more times than he can count over his lifetime, but this time he knows he will see her again. He will see all of them again.

Jim takes his hand again and they step back. In a moment, the shuttle’s struts pull up with a mechanical hum, and it lifts from the sand, rising swiftly into air. “You alright?” Jim asks, waving with his free hand as the shuttle rises.

Spock turns to him, taking in the warm smile on Jim’s face, the warm comfort of their touch, the warm love in Jim’s mind. “Better,” Spock says, “now that we are alone.”

Jim scoffs, nudging Spock with his shoulder as he shoots a grin up at him. “Oh come on, you didn’t hate having them here. I think you’re more suited to diplomacy than you give yourself credit for.”

With a little smile, Spock tugs Jim’s hand, moving them back toward the palace. “I have learned from the best,” he says. Jim shoves him sideways with a flat hand, laughing.

“Don’t think I can’t tell you’re teasing me,” Jim huffs, but he’s smiling.

“I am not teasing,” Spock says with as much false sincerity as he can. “Your methods of negotiation have always been very convincing.”

“My ‘methods of negotiation’ were pretty inappropriate in your case, Mister,” Jim says. He kicks up a little sand with the toe of his shoe, and Spock grins.

“But effective,” Spock argues. At that, Jim tugs Spock closer, nudging their shoulders as they walk.

“Just promise me you won’t use those methods on any of the other Terran dignitaries,” he says, cheeks flushed — due to heat or embarrassment Spock can’t tell.

“Only Terra’s ambassador,” Spock replies. “I plan to use your methods on him quite frequently.”

Jim’s laugh sparkles like sunlight on the surface of a cool lake, and Spock can’t help squeezing his hand tighter. “What about your methods?” Jim asks. Spock does not need to meet Jim’s eyes to know he’s talking about the game, the back-and-forth, the false fights that never needed a victor but always felt like a win for them both. And Jim does not need to meet Spock’s eyes to understand all of that. But they look to each other anyway as they take the first step up to the palace. Jim matches his stride perfectly.

“You think simply because we are allies I will not still strive to conquer you,” Spock replies. “I will make you kneel for me as frequently as I please.” He pauses, pitching his voice lower as they ascend the steps, the palace guards nearing earshot. “And will take to my knees whenever you please.”

Jim’s eyes darken, even as his smile widens, something wickedly delighted in the sparks of his mind. At that moment, they reach the landing where two of Spock’s guards stand at attention, and Jim’s voice takes on a casual, professional tenor. “Then I have a proposal for you, Sa-te’kru.” He nods to the guards, and both step aside to allow he and Spock through the palace’s opening door.

As the foyer yawns blessedly empty around them, Spock raises his eyebrow at his bondmate. “A proposal?” he prompts. Jim casts him a grin, and the hand holding Spock’s tugs him gently forward.

“As you said, we are alone now. What say you and I take a stroll in the garden? Maybe behind a few hedges? We can see which of us ends up on his knees.”

Spock returns Jim’s grin. The very thought of it is reckless, stupid, inappropriate and ill-advised. For the sa-te’kru to indulge in such shameless displays, to take his ambassador on his knees wherever he pleases, no matter who may stumble upon them.

But Vulcans are reckless. Pure will, pure passion, pure fire, and Jim loves Spock because of all of this, not in spite of it.

Besides, Jim may be full of fire himself. “I accept this proposal of yours, ambassador,” Spock replies. “And I look forward to my victory.”

With a laugh, Jim tugs Spock along, any potential consequence barely a whisper in Spock’s mind. They both know, as they step once again into the sunlight of a new day, that both of them have already won this war.