The delegation from Earth had included seven assassins.
Only one, a human male, was still alive.
‘Hey,’ he said, a phaser in each hand.
Spock recognized him the moment he grinned. His name was James Tiberius Kirk, seventeen and a half years of age, and sources regarding his reputation were conflicted. He was a prince, no less. And he stood in the arched frame of the open window between Spock and the view that to him had always provided superior aesthetic gratification, the parched mountains and the darkness worn like a cloak across his broad shoulders. The curtains draped heavy and still, no wind to stir them.
‘If you intend to fire on me now, then you are wasting precious time,’ Spock replied.
‘Steep climb,’ James Tiberius said. ‘Almost got eaten by a sehlat on the way. Speaking of which, are they for sale?’
‘They belong to the private guard of the royal house of Vulcan.’ Spock maintained awareness of James Tiberius’ every movement, but he gave no sign of firing either weapon. ‘The only means of acquiring one for yourself—’
‘—would be to conquer Vulcan and take what I wanted as tribute.’ James Tiberius sighed. ‘But that’s awkward, because we’ve come on a mission of peace.’
‘A mission of peace with phasers.’
James Tiberius shrugged, tossing the phaser in his right hand so that it twirled in the air. ‘Do you blame us?’
The candlelight on Spock’s desk reflected, briefly and beautifully, off the sleek metal barrel of the phaser, until James Tiberius’ large hand reclaimed it.
‘We have not been introduced,’ Spock said. ‘You are the seventh would-be assassin to approach me since the arrival of your vessel here on Vulcan.’
‘Sure, but the other six weren’t sanctioned. I wanted you all to myself.’
‘There are official channels for sparring, if that was your desired outcome.’
James Tiberius lifted both phasers in the fashion reserved for signaling surrender, then lowered them to the floor, setting them on the rug between twin geometric patterns and releasing them, thus relinquishing his significant advantage.
Spock arched a brow.
‘They were for the sehlats,’ James Tiberius explained. ‘Official channels take forever and I don’t have seniority.’
He remained in a crouch, knees bent, knuckles scraped raw and red from his ascent, as he pushed the phasers aside. Humans bled a red unlike any shade found on Vulcan: not the burnt red of the sands or the brazen red of torchlight after sunset. It was a fresh, hot red that bore no resemblance to sunburn or fire, and though Spock was not unfamiliar with it when spilled, it was still foreign.
James Tiberius had come to him already wounded, showing a blatant sign of mortality. As tactics went, it was like no other Spock had encountered.
Then, divested of his singular advantage, without any weapons and having surrendered the majority of his element of surprise, James Tiberius made his move. He tackled Spock from the low ground as though it had been his intention all along to fight only after hobbling himself.
It was foolish. Spock’s strength, as a Vulcan, was obviously superior; without availing himself of preparatory compensations, James Tiberius could not hope for victory. And still, despite the inevitability of defeat, James Tiberius wrapped his arms around Spock’s waist and, through momentum and determination, dragged them both to the ground. His breath came quickly; he had not yet adjusted to the differences in Vulcan’s atmosphere. He hit the floor with a thump and Spock pinned him there with his thighs all-too easily, one hand to his throat.
There was no call for expending any more energy on this curious attack than was necessary to quash the danger. James Tiberius’ skin was thrumming hot against Spock’s palm and the rhythm of his pulse disorganized, scattered from exertion and the strain of their scuffle.
It had not lasted long enough to be considered a proper fight.
James Tiberius’ chest and belly rose and fell, airway constricted by Spock’s fingers.
‘Prince Spock,’ he said.
‘Prince James Tiberius Kirk,’ Spock replied.
‘Jim,’ James Tiberius said. He bucked his weight against Spock’s bracing hold and managed, however briefly, to reverse their positions. His shadow fell over Spock’s face, his grin bright, his cheeks flushed. He reached for Spock’s hand, a documented point of vulnerability in all Vulcans, and Spock flipped him onto his back a second time just as his thumb was brushed by James Tiberius’ callused fingertips.
He channeled those feelings.
This time, James Tiberius would find no opening to exploit. He had spent himself despite his imagination and his recklessness, which on Earth was called bravery. And, for whatever reason, he was still grinning.
‘Hey,’ he said again.
‘The time for greetings is past,’ Spock replied. ‘You must know that I will not hesitate to kill you.’
‘Then you admit that I’m a threat?’
‘You entered my room unannounced via my window at night bearing two phasers.’
‘But I didn’t use them.’
‘You made incursion against my well-being, however futile.’
‘Are you kidding? I’ve got you exactly where I want you.’
‘Then you purposefully courted your own defeat.’ Spock paused, interest catching like candlelight on the barrel of a phaser, but internal. His blood was up. He was intrigued, but he would not allow curiosity to prove his undoing. He tightened his knees against James Tiberius’ sides and brought his fingers to the nerve at James Tiberius’ shoulder, where the muscle was thick and tense, applying enough pressure to warn rather than to incapacitate. ‘Explain.’
‘No,’ James Tiberius replied.
‘You are in no position to refuse.’
‘True.’ James Tiberius paused, lips pursed in thought. They were full. ‘I came to offer something.’
‘Two phasers?’ Spock suggested, for there was nothing else.
‘No,’ James Tiberius replied. ‘Myself.’
‘Yourself,’ Spock repeated.
It was uncharacteristic of him to request confirmation of the facts once stated; however, the circumstances were unique.
The offer was unexpected.
In the twenty years and six months of Spock’s life, there had been very little which took Spock by surprise. Therefore, the unexpected alone was worthy of note. It made the proposition extended by James Tiberius something valuable: an unknown variable.
‘Yeah, myself.’ Beneath Spock’s weight, James Tiberius tightened the muscles in his abdomen to squirm, drawing attention to their positions—as though Spock was not already explicitly aware. ‘I’m offering myself up. Belly up, even.’
‘A reference to a deceased animal,” Spock said. ‘You are not deceased, James Tiberius.’
There was a flinch that accompanied that statement, a wrinkle in James Tiberius’ freckled nose indicating he was not pleased by the sound of his full name. It passed quickly, but not too quickly for a Vulcan’s eyes to catch. Spock was trained in the observation and analysis of the facial expressions of several species, humans chief among them.
Humans had, in the past, proven difficult.
‘I noticed,’ James Tiberius said. ‘Does that mean you’re considering my proposal?’
Spock was considering not just the proposal, but also several other avenues of thought simultaneously. These included the dual meaning of proposal; the advantage of the position he currently held over James Tiberius; and four separate ways he could still overcome Spock, were he possessed of the appropriate strength and force.
A human could not hope to overcome a Vulcan in single combat. James Tiberius, with access to the appropriate resources, would have known this when he arrived. No doubt it was this that explained the company of six other assassins; however, the disadvantages of attacking a Vulcan on his own planet were equally apparent.
Spock was therefore persuaded to arrive at the only logical conclusion: that James Tiberius had come to him with a reason beyond the desire to take Spock’s life.
‘You are suggesting an alliance,’ Spock said.
James Tiberius nodded, but this was a distraction tactic, movement designed to draw Spock’s eye so that he would not notice James Tiberius reaching for the knife in his boot.
His earlier undulation had been a pretense anticipating this moment. With precedent, Spock would not suspect this motion’s true purpose when it was repeated.
Spock removed his hand from James Tiberius’ shoulder to catch him swiftly by the wrist just as he brought his knife to Spock’s thigh.
James Tiberius grinned, a slender flash of white teeth that was gone as quickly as lightning.
‘Didn’t like waiting for an answer, Spock. It’s one of my least-likeable traits. I’m impatient.’
‘If your impatience always provides precarious interference, for what reason should I approve of an alliance with you?’
‘Ah.’ No trace of the grin—or the bright-eyed individual who had worn the expression—remained. Spock could still feel the press of the slim blade on the seam over his thigh, but with his fingers wrapped around Jim’s wrist, he had no hope of scoring a wound or drawing green blood. ‘That’s right. I forgot. Vulcans don’t get curious.’
‘Curiosity is treacherous,’ Spock said. ‘To “get” curious is not synonymous with acting upon that curiosity, or allowing it to destroy us.’
‘Like I said, you don’t get curious.’
James Tiberius refused to blink, indicating that he understood more than he intended to share. If he believed the ruse clever, then that was his fault. Still, it was unlikely that he would believe Spock so easily fooled, and therefore he must have known the ruse was obvious. Yet he persisted—through stubbornness or commitment, foolishness or determination.
Or perhaps it was a combination of these qualities.
‘But you do get interested, right?’ James Tiberius continued. ‘Like, for example, why would a prince of Earth scale a dusty Vulcan wall in the dead of night, armed with two phasers, just to throw them away so the two of us could land…’ James Tiberius arched his hips, bringing them together in more immediate friction. Spock held firm, which did not allow them to rock upward according to the rules of momentum, which placed them in an intimate position. If James Tiberius had planned it, then he was cleverer than his prior ruse had suggested. ‘…in this position?’
‘If you intend to heighten the appeal of this alliance through sexual innuendo—’ Spock began.
James Tiberius snorted. Another surprise.
‘Seduction,’ he said. ‘It’s easier to say. It rolls off the tongue.’
‘Seduction,’ Spock replied. He tested, at a surface level, the heady aromas and impulses of the pulse now beating into his fingertips, but it was a confusion of human adrenaline, all motives hidden beneath the basic flush of heat and fear and intrigue.
‘Yeah, you’ve got the hang of it. Vulcan tongues and human tongues aren’t so different.’
‘As seductions go,’ Spock said, ‘this one is not without fault.’
‘Climbing in through windows, providing danger, excitement, mystery…’ James Tiberius allowed himself, inexplicably, to relax, turning his face to one side. It afforded Spock an improved view of his profile—and his full lips. ‘If there was a checklist of qualifications, I hit ‘em all.’
‘Fascinating,’ Spock replied.
‘Yeah,’ James Tiberius said. ‘That’s another one of my charming qualities. Must’ve missed it in the count. Thanks for the reminder.’
‘It was not for your edification,’ Spock informed him.
Jim lifted his thick eyebrows, attempting to convey some private amusement.
‘You wanna know something else, Your Highness?’
‘Have you not finished extolling your own virtues?’ Spock asked.
He had never been confronted so directly by the human penchant for boasting. This too was new, a novelty brought to him by James Tiberius and his assassins from Earth. Spock could feel the quickness of James Tiberius’ breath, the rise and fall of his chest, and the geometry of his body where he rested pinned beneath Spock’s hips.
‘Forgot to mention,’ Spock felt the sudden tension of James Tiberius’ abdominal wall and attributed it to his conversational strains, ‘I’m excellent at distractions.’
He moved in a sudden ripple of muscular tension, boots braced against the floor to form the shape of a bow with his body. The force of his flexed shape momentarily unseated Spock’s advantage, but he was on his feet before James Tiberius could use his boot-knife to his advantage, putting distance between him and the slicing arc of the blade. James Tiberius rolled onto his side, flipping the knife in his hand to shift his grip on the weapon, so that the blade pointed toward himself instead of Spock.
The position was not a defensive one but a style favored by certain hand-to-hand combat specialists. Spock’s intelligence on Earth’s royalty did not extensively cover their training techniques; it occurred to him as James Tiberius swiped and Spock again dodged the knife that this would be an excellent opportunity to gather the missing intelligence.
‘Am I to assume that you have thought better of your proposal?’ Spock asked.
There was no shortage of concealed weapons in Spock’s chambers: a lirpa set above the balcony curtain rods and a phaser stored beneath the couch, to say nothing of the two separate phasers James Tiberius had brought with him. Neither he nor Spock saw fit to make a lunge for one.
‘I’m still waiting for your answer.’
James Tiberius side-stepped onto the wall next to him, using the leverage to kick off and forward, leaping onto Spock from a downward angle. His knife caught Spock’s forearm, ripping the protective straps of leather wrapped around the sleeve and nicking the skin beneath.
There was a reason James Tiberius alone survived the assault on Spock’s palace to make it this far. He was skilled.
A blast of phaser fire struck the column next to Spock’s head, drawing his attention.
As skilled as James Tiberius might have been—beyond Spock’s initial appraisal suggested—he could not be in more than one location at once. He was not the one firing on Spock’s chambers. He was, however briefly, above Spock, about to be unseated and once again pinned, but he flattened himself to Spock’s chest at the first volley, his hair tickling Spock’s cheek, his sweat dripping onto Spock’s skin.
For a moment, equally brief, they breathed as one.
‘Oh yeah,’ James Tiberius said. ‘The alliance. Did I mention I found out about some plots to kill you and came here to warn you?’
‘You did not warn me.’
‘I was getting to it. Got distracted.’ Spock recognized the tensing of James Tiberius’ abdominal muscles, but this time the move worked to both their advantages, as Spock found himself rolled behind the cover of the nearest column. A piece of the stone had been torn loose from the first blast, rubble dusting the side of James Tiberius’ sleeve and chest, whitening his hair. ‘I found out about some plots to kill you.’
‘I have already managed to defend myself against six plots since the arrival of the delegation from Earth.’
The darkness of Spock’s room was silent—unnaturally so, suggesting that pains were being taken by the new threat to avoid detection by keen Vulcan hearing. James Tiberius’ heavy breathing, so close to Spock’s ears, was distraction enough.
Spock covered his mouth, heat blooming along the lengths of his fingers. But James Tiberius understood the directive and held his breath just long enough that Spock was able to detect the faintest of footfalls muffled on the carpet.
Spock’s focus shifted. James Tiberius was watching.
In an instant, he had pulled away, the flash of the boot-knife signaling to Spock what his intentions were. He was quick enough that the signal was not broadcast before he threw the knife, catching a masked intruder in the shoulder just as they lifted their phaser to fire again.
The intruder went down.
Two rose in their place, both equally armed. The two phasers of which James Tiberius had divested himself would not have been unwelcome. But James Tiberius was already on the move again, barreling forward toward one of the assassins with his head down, as though he both intended to bowl them over with the impact of his skull alone, and anticipated that Spock would take care of the other threat.
It was to Spock’s benefit that he did as James Tiberius anticipated.
In this instance.
Spock’s pride was not so insubstantial as to be damaged by working in concert with a second party. The concept of accepting aid was not distasteful; on the contrary, it would be the height of illogic to cast aside an asset in battle for reasons no more significant than personal arrogance.
Such a thing would be un-Vulcan. In matters concerning the Alliance, as the Empire before her, it was important to maintain his Vulcan ideals in order to preserve a consistent sense of self. And, with the frequent overturn of regimes and their living monarchs, shared history was the only legacy any member of the royal family could hope to maintain in the current climate.
The teachings of Surak had not calmed the savage Vulcan passions that threatened to destroy the planet in centuries past. They had instead taught control, the proper channeling of those passions, to logically employ them to their utmost potential.
To understand. To own. To conquer.
These were the facts Spock found himself able to reflect upon before James Tiberius connected with the assassin he had attacked. Their partner in the assault overturned Spock’s sitting room table, a thick, square-cut piece that had been carved from blackened desert rock; no human alone could move it. There was too much action and too many shadows to hide in for even Spock’s eyesight to lend him conclusive certainty, but the bulk of his attacker suggested Klingon heritage.
If these were Klingons, then they had traveled a great distance for an attempt that would not find equal success.
James Tiberius kicked a wayward phaser across the floor. It was impossible to know his intentions—whether it was accidental luck or deliberate assistance, but Spock did not have to discern James Tiberius’ motives in order to profit from them.
He grabbed the phaser from the floor and fired. The blast struck the Klingon in the shoulder, but was no more effective than if the weapon had been set to stun. While the blow was not a killing one, it had the dual purpose of slowing and distracting his enemy.
The sound of a joint being ripped from its socket was a second distraction. James Tiberius’ private battle was reaching a ferocious conclusion, though Spock could not afford to take his eyes off his own attacker to determine the victor. His assailant did not have the same restraint.
This was all the advantage Spock needed in order to move from a defensive position to an offensive one. He lunged forward, using the heavy ballast of his own overturned table to tackle the Klingon with an arm around his throat, knocking him down to the floor.
The impact would wind even a species with more than two lungs in place for redundancy.
Spock was bent over his enemy when a heavy weight braced itself on his back—familiar scents of skin and sweat told him it was James Tiberius, employing Spock for ballast. Spock heard a grunt that belonged to James Tiberius, followed by a grunt that did not, then a thud and a crash, the weight already lifted. It was no longer Spock’s to bear, though the question remained if it had ever been his to begin with.
James Tiberius had sprung upon the prone form, locking his thighs around a throat and holding fast. Without having to guard his own back, if only for the present, Spock doubled his efforts. He could feel the blood and air flow slow, constricted by his grip. When he tightened his elbow at the windpipe, his attacker sputtered before going limp.
They were still alive—but very much unconscious. Spock turned to find James Tiberius behind him, tearing off the mask of the assassin he had wrestled into subjugation and a relatively peaceful sleep.
The mourning tattoos upon the individual’s shaved head, along with the pronounced orbital ridges on their brow, informed Spock that it was a Romulan. When he removed the mask of his own assailant, his suspicions were confirmed. A Klingon and a Romulan.
James Tiberius gave the throat between his thighs a final squeeze as he tossed the mask to the side and raked his fingers through his hair. There was a bruise blooming across his cheekbone and a split on his bottom lip, red blood beading in the seam. He rolled out his shoulder with a crunch, knocking it back into place.
‘Alliance,’ James Tiberius said. ‘Still don’t want it?’
‘I would have been more than capable of dealing with these assassins on my own without encountering significant difficulty.’
‘Sure,’ James Tiberius said. ‘I don’t doubt it. But this way was a hell of a lot more fun, right?’
The collar of his shirt was torn, as was the sleeve at the once dislocated shoulder. There was still dusty residue along the left side of his jaw and chin.
‘As you had prior information that led you to believe assassins would come to my chambers this evening, for what reason did you disarm yourself?’
‘A peace offering,’ James Tiberius said.
Spock did not, as the Earth phrase went, ‘buy it’.
‘Because if I hadn’t put those phasers down, you probably would’ve nerve-pinched me and that’d be the end of it,’ James Tiberius added.
It still did not ‘add up’.
‘I have my reasons,’ James Tiberius concluded. ‘Curious yet?’
Spock’s attraction to him was not shameful. James Tiberius was handsome in a foreign way, and it was possible he was drawn to their shared humanity, a result of his human heritage. It had once been considered a fault—though he had studied it, learned it, subjugated it, until he had transformed it to an advantage.
Attraction itself did not have to prove fatal. As long as that attraction could be contained and controlled, then it was little more than any other fact of life. Hunger, pain, rage, and desire.
‘You’re looking at me like you wanna eat me,’ James Tiberius said. ‘Is that what Vulcan curiosity looks like?’
‘Vulcans do not consume meat, let alone the flesh of any advanced species,’ Spock said. ‘If your intelligence has led you to believe otherwise, then you have been misinformed. Perhaps this can be attributed to an Alliance propaganda campaign about the fictional and unsavory practices of my people.’
James Tiberius blinked. It was slow, an appealing movement designed to draw attention to the color of his eyes, as well as the dark length of the lashes that framed his gaze.
‘You think the worst thing people could think to cook up about you guys is that you eat people?’ James Tiberius held up his hand before Spock could speak to confirm or deny this latest statement. ‘Never mind. If I was gonna feed anyone a line about Vulcans, it’d be about your keen ability to turn innuendo into something gross.’
‘You are the one who mentioned ingestion,’ Spock said.
James Tiberius leaned closer, as though this response had been something he expected. Having been given the chance to observe his fighting techniques, both as an opponent and an ally, Spock could categorize this behavior as being sized up as the former.
Or perhaps as a suitable match.
James Tiberius circled him like a predator. Spock, in turn, did not allow his focus to waver, taking refuge in the stillness, cloaked in shadows.
‘I was thinking more along the lines of being devoured,’ James Tiberius said.
This time, it was not the words themselves that bore meaning, but the emphasis placed on them. Spock was not in the habit of inferring anything but the literal definition of anyone’s speech, but it was nearly impossible to ignore the insinuation built into Jim’s words. More reliable than allusion was the obvious dilation of James Tiberius’ pupils.
Scientific facts were always more trustworthy than even the most colorful inflection.
There was the distinct possibility that James Tiberius had been speaking in earnest about his intentions toward Spock. The attraction, at least, was impossible to deny.
‘Am I gonna have to kiss you before you get the picture?’ James Tiberius asked. ‘I thought Vulcans were supposed to be quick on the uptake.’
He surged toward Spock, who caught James Tiberius easily, flipping him over the junction of his hip and onto the sofa, which was miraculously undamaged after the assault on Spock’s chambers. His fingers seized James Tiberius’ wrist beneath his torn sleeve, ripped from elbow to hem.
The skin-to-skin connection revealed nothing more than a confirmation of what Spock had already taught himself to expect: arousal, heat, a frenetic quality of thought that denoted excitement.
To borrow another particular human phrasing for a human subject: his blood was up.
Whatever deeper motives James Tiberius carried with him, they remained hidden in the tumult.
‘Will there be another attack made by these unknowns?’ Spock asked.
James Tiberius shifted, one knee drawn up. When he made no move for another knife hidden in his boot Spock had to presume the position was intended to heighten sexual arousal. ‘Not that I know of. Not tonight, anyway.’
‘I speak not only of the other intruders, but of you, as well.’
‘C’mon. You’ve got me pinned,’ James Tiberius said.
‘Yet you yourself wished to impress upon me the success of your distraction tactics. Not that you have intended to do me harm—merely prove your capabilities as a combatant.’
‘So it worked, huh?’ James Tiberius swiped his tongue over his bottom lip.
‘Had you believed failure a possible outcome of your visit, you should not have come,’ Spock replied.
James Tiberius huffed, sweat still beading the side of his throat and the spot where it bobbed when he swallowed. Spock could only see it because of the torn fabric at the collar, falling open in a jagged “V”.
‘You desire me,’ Spock said.
‘You sound pretty sure of yourself.’
‘I have analyzed the data and come to the only possible conclusion.’
‘What comes next? Field research?’ James Tiberius held back a laugh by biting his bottom lip.
Spock leaned down, closer, until his full shadow had fallen to cover James Tiberius on the couch like a blanket—or like a shroud. It was possible that Spock’s close proximity to fully human passions and impulses had colored his thoughts, lending them metaphor and allegory. He could not—would not—lose himself to it, appraising the eddies and pulls of James Tiberius’ physical wants and categorizing them. How they could be approached; how they could be used.
His lips were close, their mouths nearly meeting. James Tiberius sucked in a breath that pulled coolly at Spock’s skin. When he licked his bottom lip again, the tip of his tongue caught Spock’s as well, tracing the curve before drawing back.
James Tiberius believed Spock was teasing.
And so he was.
Spock indulged him by kissing him, long and hard, fingers tightening around James Tiberius’ wrist and accepting the blood-rush that followed.
‘Mmf,’ James Tiberius murmured, a humming groan caught and muffled in his open mouth.
Then, Spock pulled away.
‘Your proposal appears to have its merits after all,’ he said, releasing his hold. Were James Tiberius to make any sudden movements, Spock was now ready for him. ‘I will call my counselors, and you will tell me everything you know about these assassins.’