The night Sam got the news, Jim sat with him for a long time. Hours. And he promised to stay with him all night if he needed to. They hadn't slept in the same room since they were children, and it felt strange, surreal to do so now, after they had both grown and changed so much. At 26 Jim held the title of Admiral in Terra’s Starfleet. And Sam, now 30, wasn't just Sam. He was Crown Prince George III.
The future king of Terra, and yet he was still too young to deal with the responsibility of what that meant.
“This is archaic,” Sam said for the hundredth time, head in his hands, sitting on the edge of his gilded bed. He'd hardly moved for hours, and he hadn’t touched the meal laid out under its ornate silver dome on his bedside table. “They’re selling their children like cattle.”
Jim had been staring at his brother from his seat at the desk, and now leaned forward, elbows on his knees, trying to catch Sam’s eyes. But Sam stared straight at the floor.
“I know,” Jim said. And he did know. He’d been outraged, too. He’d blustered around the room, accused his parents of pandering to their allies, defended Sam’s autonomy and practically begged them to reconsider. But he also knew why they had made the decision that they did. King George and Queen Winona had explained in no uncertain terms what this union could mean for Terra, and-- to borrow a phrase from their allies-- it was logical. “But with a human ruling alongside King Sarek,” Jim echoed their words softly, “it makes sense that they would want a Vulcan to rule alongside you. Look on the bright side. At least it's not Sybok.”
The Kirk princes had met the royal family of Vulcan a handful of times throughout their childhoods, though it had been quite a few years since the last function that had brought them together. All Jim really remembered was that Sarek and Amanda were appropriately regal, Sybok a little too intense for his tastes and Spock-- Sam's future husband, Jim supposed, if everything went well-- was quiet. Sometimes unnervingly quiet. But he didn't seem like a bad person. Still, that was little salve for the wound.
Sam let out a hollow laugh. “Always looking for that silver lining, aren't you, Jim?” He sat up a little bit, looking somehow small on the edge of his massive mattress, somehow plain amidst the draping blue curtains pulled back from the bedposts, somehow powerless in a shining white bedroom meant for a king.
Jim stood, making his way to the bed. As he settled beside Sam, mattress sinking into a divot with his weight, he let out a sigh and took a moment to decide what to say. What could he say? Unsure if it was wanted, or if it would help, he laid a comforting hand on his brother’s shoulder. “One of us has to,” he said lightly, though he didn't really feel it. He paused, examined the worry lines branching from Sam’s eyes. “There's no getting out of it, is there?” Jim had asked as much already, but maybe some solution would present itself through conversation. There was never any harm in hoping.
Sam scoffed. “Mom said, ‘if you utterly loathe him, we can reconsider,’ but I don't loathe him. At least, I can’t imagine I will. And I can't pretend to. This is the right decision for our planet, our alliance. I know it is. But, Jim--” finally he looked up, and it seemed as though he wanted to say something he was trying to convince himself not to say. After a second, Sam looked back to the floor, running his fingers over his mustache. If he kept doing that, he was going to rub it right off, but Jim let the nervous gesture continue. “It doesn't matter,” Sam finally said, “It's been decided.”
Jim followed Sam’s gaze, mentally tracing the geometric pattern of the plush carpet, heart aching for his brother. They had both been raised on romantic tales, stories of valiant heroes and their noble loves. And they’d seen their parents doting upon each other, flirting, telling stories of how they’d met, how George had proposed, how everything about their union had fallen into place. And here, now, the right to a love like that had been taken from Sam with a decision made behind closed doors. Betrothals weren’t unheard of, but they were seldom necessary. Generally, the pattern would follow that a noble person would meet someone of like status in court, they would fall in love, and they would marry without complication.
But when politics were involved, and when alliances as important as the one between Terra and Vulcan were at stake, cementing such things through marriage was bound to happen sometimes.
In spite of himself, and for the first time in his life, Jim was thankful that he was not the older brother. The Vulcans wanted their son to marry the future king, and the Terran court had agreed. But where Jim had been spared, Sam had been condemned to what could only be a loveless marriage.
Even so, they had spent time with Spock as children. Not much, but enough. There was a basis there for something. Maybe not love, but an alliance. A partnership. Mutual respect. It wasn’t what Sam wanted for himself, Jim knew, nor would it be something Jim would want. But he hoped someday it might be enough.
The Vulcan ship docked at the royal hangar two days later, decorated in intricate golden loops of Vulcan script. It seemed illogical, Jim thought, to dress the vessel up at all, but he supposed Vulcans often put aside logic for pomp and circumstance. As did Terrans.
He stood with his family at the end of the hangar’s walkway, stuffed into the gold brocade and stiff velvet of his ceremonial Starfleet uniform, surrounded on all sides by journalists and dignitaries and courtiers who had been chattering away for a good long while before the ship pulled in. Jim’s medals weighed heavy on his chest, the fabric itched against his skin, and the summer heat outside hadn’t failed to lend a sheen of sweat to his forehead. He was more than ready for the formalities to end.
Their cultural adviser stood just behind Jim, and she prodded him between the ribs as the ship's walkway began to lower. “Shoulders back, your highness ,” she whispered-- never failing to make his title sound like a begrudging term of endearment-- and Jim obeyed with a sigh.
“We’ve been standing here for almost an hour, Nyota,” he whispered back, “It’s not as though I’m trying to--” but Sam elbowed him, eyes straight ahead as he shushed Jim out the corner of his mouth.
Jim turned his eyes back to the ship as the walkway thunked against the metal floor. The sound echoed fabulously in the otherwise empty hangar, jarring the teeth in Jim’s skull. But he kept a neutral look in the lines of his face, as was expected, as he’d been trained to do. After a few moments, carefully measured footsteps began to descend from the ship’s opening, and he straightened his posture pointedly lest Nyota jab him again.
Only three members of the Vulcan royal family made their way off the ship, having left Sybok on-planet to rule in the interim. As their faces became visible, Jim scanned them, suddenly nervous. Vulcans always made Jim nervous. Only the Terran among them, Queen Amanda, wore a smile, one borne of recognition and excitement. Her husband Sarek looked as he ever did, straight and statuesque with his chin raised. And Spock, well…
“At least he's handsome,” Jim muttered, leaning just barely in his brother’s direction.
Sam shushed him again, but Jim didn’t feel guilty for breaking the enforced ceremonial silence for a moment. It wasn’t as though anyone had noticed.
Besides, it had been almost a decade since he'd seen the younger prince of Vulcan, and Spock had grown up. Far from the bean pole he used to be, he now wore his dark, royal robes with grace, full shoulders and strong arms. Though Vulcan royalty wore no unnecessary ornamentation, a silver buckle at his waist cinched the fabric that draped down his chest, outlining a lithe frame. He still wore that same damn haircut, though, bangs cut straight along his forehead, a mirror image to his father’s own style. When Spock had been young, it had looked silly, but Jim had to admit he’d grown into it.
The family approached, trailed by a few stiff-faced, dark-robed attendants, and in unison the Terran royals raised the ta’al. Nyota had taught them all well.
“Dif tor heh smusma,” George said formally. “Welcome to Terra. It has been far too long, King Sarek, Queen Amanda, Prince Spock.”
They all offered the ta’al in turn, but Amanda was the first to speak. “It is a pleasure to be here,” she said jovially, “and lovely to see you all again. Sarek, look how the boys have grown!”
Sarek turned his eyes to the Kirk princes as he lowered his hand, and his gaze settled on them like something tangible, a weight Jim could feel sinking into him. Assessing. Scrutinizing. Sam’s earlier words about cattle entered Jim's mind; he did feel as though he were being appraised.
“Indeed,” Sarek said simply. His eyes lingered on Sam a little longer than necessary, then moved back to George. “I trust this visit will be mutually beneficial to both of our planets.”
“It will,” George promised.
Beside him, Jim felt rather than heard Sam swallow, but Jim’s eyes were trained on Spock. The Vulcan prince hadn’t yet looked directly at any of them. Rather, his attention seemed fixed at a point somewhere above George’s shoulder. If Jim had to guess, he’d say Spock was about as uncomfortable as the rest of them.
Some small blessing, at least.
The feast that night was lavish, as it always was when foreign dignitaries paid a visit to the palace. They all piled into the great dining hall, seated at a long, thin table that nearly sagged under the weight of its burden-- plates and platters and jugs and bowls of Terran and Vulcan food alike. It was a kaleidoscope of color and scent, befitting a royal dinner. The large doors that led to the palace gardens had been flung open to let in the warm evening air and let out the sound of their revelry. But, unlike when they hosted the Andorian royalty or the Tellarite high council, this event was decidedly subdued.
Uhura had hired a Vulcan string band to play music during the dinner, and they plucked and twined away in the corner, skillfully but without passion. The conversation around the long table remained quiet and controlled, and after a time Jim found himself staring at his drink and wishing the Vulcans partook in alcohol.
The family had decided to sit Sam and Spock together near the head of the table, of course, no doubt in an effort to encourage conversation, but someone had thought to seat Jim on Sam’s other side. For comfort, he supposed.
Although Sam didn’t really need his help. They’d both been groomed since childhood to converse with people who were different from them, and in the worst of situations. As soon as the first course arrived, Sam had struck up a conversation with his would-be-fiance, and Jim was pleased to hear Spock actually responding.
They spoke about the one thing they had in common: science. It had always been a thread to connect the princes. When they were children, the only way Jim and Sam had convinced Spock and Sybok to play with them had been by showing them the experimental stations their court scientists had set up for the princes’ use. Now, Sam asked Spock about his studies and shared some of his own. Biology had been Sam’s most recent special interest, and while Spock confessed to leaning more toward astronomy, he obviously knew enough about the former subject to contribute.
Jim did, too, but he restrained himself, even when the conversation did turn toward the stars-- a subject about which he had a great many opinions.
He didn’t need to share his experiences with Starfleet or his recent fascination with studying the possibility of multiple universes. Everything he knew was probably something Spock knew, and the point of tonight wasn’t for Jim to air his theories and talk about his favorite scientific journals.
The point of tonight was for Sam and Spock to start the long process of figuring out if they could stand to be married to each other. So Jim stayed out of it. He decided that if his brother could take this time to find some commonality with the man he was supposed to marry, then he should. Jim was there in case Sam needed him, but he found it was simply pleasant to listen in. The rise and fall of Spock’s voice, deeper now than it once had been, was measured and soothing, like a metronome, and when he began to talk about the probe the Vulcan Science Academy had recently sent into a nearby black hole, Jim was surprisingly able to rein in his questions in favor of simply concentrating on the rhythm of his speech.
Eventually, Queen Amanda, who sat just across from him, seemed to sense his silence. She leaned forward, clasping her delicate hands, and asked Jim about the state of Starfleet. Pulling himself from the conversation taking place at his side, he gave her a kind smile. It was likely she knew Jim’s involvement in the organization was tertiary at best, after everything, but it was still something he was happy to discuss. He talked about how the fleet had edged out past explored space, and he’d been keeping track of their progress. While finding out about the universe through reports wasn’t quite as exciting as being there in the thick of it, it was still fascinating, and he had a good complement of captains sending him data daily.
He spoke for a solid few minutes, grateful to Amanda for her interest, though he didn’t expect the quiet question from somewhere off to his side.
“Have you served on a starship, Prince James?”
The question came from Spock, and Jim startled slightly, casting his eyes from Amanda to Spock to Sam. He hadn’t noticed when Sam and Spock’s conversation had dropped off, but now all three of them had their eyes trained on him. “Oh, you know what it’s like to be part of the royal family,” he said, regaining himself after the brief surprise. “After one tiny altercation with the Klingons a few years ago, I’ve been told it’s ‘too dangerous’ for me to serve. But I’ve had the honor of accompanying my captains on diplomatic missions and scientific surveys. I hate to say, most of my job is paperwork these days.” He punctuated that with a self-deprecating chuckle. Amanda giggled and Sam’s lips twisted in a little smile, but Spock did not react. The stone of his face made Jim more than a little uncomfortable.
“May I inquire as to the nature of the altercation with the Klingons?” Spock asked, “I do not remember hearing that you were involved in such an incident.”
Jim scratched his head uncomfortably. In all honesty, it had been nothing. The ugliest it had gotten were a few less-than-pleasant transmissions warning them away from Klingon space, which they had hardly even approached. But one threat of violence and suddenly the royal court decided as a whole that a prince, even the younger prince, shouldn’t be out gallivanting around the stars.
But it was then that Jim realized he had inadvertently co-oped the conversation. Sure, Spock had asked , but Jim wasn’t the brother he was supposed to be asking questions of.
“Oh, it’s not as dire as everyone made it out to be, or as interesting I’m afraid,” Jim said with a laugh. He grasped his brother’s shoulder good-naturedly, giving him a little shake that made Sam cast his eyes sideways at him. “But Sam ,” Jim said, “joined the fleet for a fly-through of our allied space, oh, just a few years ago. And I understand that was quite the experience. Tell him about that, Sam.”
“Sam?” Spock raised an eyebrow, and Jim nearly winced. He often forgot that everyone else knew Sam by his proper name, but he kicked himself for having let himself slip now.
“Ah, it’s just a nickname,” Sam explained, giving Spock a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. He took his drink from the table, pinky finger streaking the condensation as he raised it, feigning nonchalance. “Although, I suppose if we are to be married,” he continued, “you may as well refer to me as ‘Sam’ too.”
A silence settled over their small group, not due to Sam’s words, but due to his tone. He sounded so sad, so tired, so entirely less than regal, hopeless in a way no crown prince should be, as though he had expended any energy he had.
Jim didn’t fail to notice Amanda’s crestfallen look, nor Spock’s carefully controlled expression of surprise.
“And while we’re at it,” Jim spoke up, voice much louder than he meant it to be, and containing a kind of levity he hoped didn’t sound fabricated, “you might as well call me Jim. ‘Prince James’ sounds stuffy, doesn’t it?”
Spock turned his eyes back to Jim, seemingly digesting his words, though at least part of his attention was still on Sam, who sipped uncomfortably at his drink.
“It would be improper to refer to either of you by a nickname,” Spock replied gently. Amanda snorted an inelegant laugh, bless her.
“Spock,” she said sweetly, “they’re going to be family someday. You might as well start treating them like it.”
Jim turned his eyes gratefully to her, though at the mention of family Sam tilted his glass back and nearly chugged it, seemingly to save himself the pressure of responding. Now Jim was rather thankful they weren't drinking alcohol.
“I will become accustomed to the idea,” Spock responded quietly, leaning back in his seat, which pulled him from Jim’s view. Jim took in a breath through his nose, meeting Amanda’s eyes. They shared a look, a sort of ‘can’t win ‘em all’ expression. He found a bit of encouragement in her humanity. The Vulcans were strange to him, but Amanda had grown up with his parents. She was Terran, a noble, someone he could relate to.
If only he knew how to relate to the rest of the family.
The event lasted well into the evening. At some point, the Vulcan string band stopped playing and at some point servants came in to clear their plates, but even after that the conversation went on. Sam and Spock continued to speak-- though more stilted than before-- and Jim continued to listen. By the time King George stood at the head of the table, Jim was starting to become incredibly restless.
George thanked the Vulcan royalty for attending, laid his hands on the elegantly embroidered tablecloth, now dotted with drink and crumbs, and said something long-winded about diplomatic relations and alliances and the strength of unity. Then, finally, he made it clear that the night was through.
Jim could swear the whole table let out a sigh of relief-- or they would have, if the Vulcans in attendance had been capable.
When he stood, bones creaking from sitting far too long, he noticed his brother’s tense shoulders and the hard angles of his face. Jim took him gently by the elbow and met his eyes. “Are you alright?” he whispered, but the Vulcans around them were all occupied with farewells and there was a bustle in the great hall that he hoped would cover his words.
Sam gave him a small, grateful smile. “I’m okay,” he said. “I just need to lie down, I think.”
Unable to blame him, Jim let go of Sam’s arm and gave him an encouraging little smile. “You did great,” he said sincerely. Then, with much less sincerity, “it’s going to be okay.” He couldn’t say that with any confidence. He really didn’t know if it would.
But Sam gave him a clap on the shoulder as if he had at least understood the intended comfort.
When the crowd began to disperse-- the Vulcans led by Nyota to their reserved wing of the palace and the Terrans wandering tiredly to theirs-- Jim found himself exhausted but somehow unwilling to turn in. Sam had gone after dishing out a few courteous goodbyes to the Vulcan royals, Spock and his parents had disappeared somewhere during the bustle, and Jim found himself milling about with the last straggling courtiers who had finally broken out the wine, though he spoke to none of them. There was a sort of buzzing energy in him that always seemed to linger after the tension of dealing with dignitaries, and he had long ago found there was one, solid way to purge it.
So, with a few rushed goodbyes, he wandered from the banquet hall out the wide open doors to the adjoining balcony. Its white stone shined like the rest of the palace, almost blinding in contrast to the dark of evening that had settled over the rest of the world. Unwilling to linger in the glare, Jim stepped slowly down the balcony’s set of sweeping steps, making his way into the gardens. The greenery stretched out for more than a mile before him, though he could only see what was illuminated in the ring of the palace’s golden light.
That was alright, he thought, as he set his feet on the brick pathway that meandered through towering plants and elegant little flowerbeds. He knew this garden as well as he knew the rest of his home, as though it were a part of him, and he decided it might be nice to tread it in darkness tonight.
The nighttime air bore a sweet scent, muggy with the lingering heat of the summer day, but with a chill to the breeze that ruffled leaves along the path. The brick beneath his feet felt solid, familiar, and he passed through the tall, reaching plants with a sort of quiet contentment that he seldom, if ever, found in people. Not that he wasn’t fond of socializing, but hours of it-- and in so tense an atmosphere-- took its toll.
So when he saw the silhouette of a figure near the sunflowers, looking upward at their faces, he paused, unsure if he wanted to make his presence known.
The figure, who stood at one of the forks in the path ahead, shifted slightly, hands behind their back, and Jim could see from here that they were draped in robes-- Vulcan robes.
Tentatively, he moved forward to get a better look, forgetting for a moment about Vulcan hearing until the figure turned.
A face caught the yellow light still filtering out from the palace. Though the illumination was faint, it highlighted high cheeks, narrow lips, an angled jaw and angled ears, and Jim knew the moment he recognized Prince Spock that he, too, had been recognized. Spock straightened his shoulders, his neck, and though Jim had not seen the expression Spock had worn while staring at the sunflowers, he knew those careful features had tightened at his arrival. Unnamable nerves gripped him at the realization, but Jim was a prince too, and he had a skill for recovering himself.
So, he offered a smile, approaching Spock cautiously, a small wave making its way unbidden to his hand. “Prince Spock,” he greeted softly. He didn’t know why he kept his voice low-- it wasn’t as though he would disturb anyone out here, but it seemed a time for quiet.
“Prince James,” Spock acknowledged, and he looked uncomfortable, surprised, carving a very different silhouette against the night than the one Jim had seen when he’d first caught sight of him.
“Getting some fresh air?” Jim asked. He was nearly upon Spock now-- more able to read the line between his eyebrows and the way his lips were parted, just slightly.
“As I do not require rest at this time,” Spock replied gently, “and I remember glimpsing these gardens during our last visit to Terra, I thought, perhaps, I would like to see them in more detail.”
Stopping himself just outside Spock’s sphere of personal space, Jim looked upon the man before him, noting how much taller Spock grown, and how he still held himself as though he were small. There was little of Sybok or Sarek’s easy confidence in him.
“I’m surprised you remember,” Jim replied conversationally, setting a hand on his hip, trying for something casual, though he knew Spock was one for propriety. “Last time you were here…well, you must have been eleven? Twelve?”
Spock made a vague, uncomfortable motion with his shoulders. It was a very human gesture, endearing in a way, and Jim struggled to restrain his smile.
“Twelve,” Spock confirmed.
Jim’s grin widened as the memories returned to him. Seventeen years ago. It had been during some kind of summit of the quadrant’s leaders, punctuated with a raucous party. That night, he and Sam had spent a good, solid evening with the young Vulcans. “I remember that gala,” he said, “It was horrible, wasn’t it?”
Something in Spock’s tight stance seemed to unfurl, though barely, and Jim could swear the soft way Spock held his lips was a trick of the tentative light. “It was a decidedly unpleasant affair for children,” Spock said after a moment, “even royal children.”
“You remember sneaking out? You, me, Sam and Sybok?”
“I do have an eidetic memory, Prince James.”
With a chuckle, Jim rubbed his arm, almost embarrassed. Of course, Spock remembered. “Well, Sam-- ah-- George and I were rather proud of ourselves for getting the Vulcan princes to break a rule. The greatest accomplishment of our young lives, I think.”
Jim saw the barest hint of a smile touch Spock’s lips then. Though Spock was now grown, that expression reminded Jim of that night. Jim had made it his goal to get the Vulcans to smile all evening, turning it into a kind of game as they'd flung peas across the table with their spoons or cracked quiet jokes at the expense of some of the attending ambassadors. Sybok’s slight grins came easily, but Spock’s had been a challenge that Jim had thrown himself into with gusto.
“It was not difficult to convince us to abandon the festivities,” Spock conceded. “I will admit, I have not always had patience for diplomatic functions.” He turned to face the palace, and the light radiating from it seemed to bathe his features in gold. “It was that balcony, was it not?” he asked, raising a long finger to a balcony a few floors up. “Where we looked at the stars?”
Jim smiled at the memory, moving a little closer to Spock to follow his line of sight. “Ah, yes, that’s right,” he said, remembering how the autumn air had grown cold as they leaned over the balcony railing, and how little any of them had seemed to care about the discomfort. “Sam and I tried to teach you and your brother the Terran constellations.”
Spock nodded. “It was educational,” he said, and Jim let out a kind of ‘pfft’ of disbelief. Spock glanced at Jim, his eyes losing some of their tension.
“Educational? We were kids. Terran kids, no less. There wasn’t much we could teach you. I think we got the big dipper and little dipper confused, if I’m being honest”
“On the contrary,” Spock said. “I learned a great deal about Terra that evening. Unfortunately, I have found few opportunities to continue that education.”
A moment passed with the echo of those words settling quietly into their implications, and Jim was sure it was obvious in his expression when the understanding dawned.
Terra was not Spock's home, Jim realized. Collectively-- and at most-- Spock may have spent a couple months of his life on this planet, and all when he was a child. Now he was expected not just to live here, but to integrate himself into the culture of it. If Jim were in Spock's shoes, he'd be scared out of his wits. Of course, Spock was Vulcan, but even Vulcans were susceptible to intimidation, to the very real implications of very daunting tasks.
“Then why don't I show you around a little?” he asked, making a decision. He would likely be Spock's brother-in-law someday. It was only right that he should extend the olive branch. “We grow nearly every plant you can grow on Terra right here in this garden. We won’t be able to see most of them at night, but it might be nice to gain some familiarity with at least one part of the planet.”
Spock's voice, which had been calm and confident all evening, now bore a hint of hesitation. “I would not presume to impose. You must be tired.”
Taking stock of himself, Jim considered that. He was bodily exhausted, yes, and maybe a little socially exhausted, but Spock didn’t ask for much energy. Besides, Jim loved the gardens. It was somewhat exciting to be able to share them with someone who had never explored them.
“I'm happy to walk for a little while if you are,” he said. “These functions always get me worked up.”
Spock's shoulders seemed to relax minutely. “Then I would be grateful for a tour. Thank you, Prince James.”
Jim chuckled waving for Spock to follow him as he set off down the path, though he kept his pace slow. “You know, I would really prefer it if you would call me Jim.”
Spock did not respond right away, merely followed Jim a few steps. Then, quietly, “I will consider it."
That seemed to be the best Jim could hope for. But the Vulcans planned to stay here a couple of months-- Spock quite a bit longer if all went according to plan-- and familiarity couldn’t be cultivated in an evening. Jim understood that.
So he let the subject drop, and they tread the winding path through the illuminated portion of the garden. Jim introduced Spock to the flora, the ones he knew at least, pausing at his favorites-- the aster, the marigold, the azalea-- and talking about where they typically grew geographically, the seasons in which they bloomed without the aid of treated soil and constant maintenance. Spock himself seemed rather taken with the bed that hosted a small complement of daisies and daffodils, which made Jim grin. The simplest of flowers, and Spock traced his fingers gently over the petals as though they were carved from precious gems.
“What do you call this one?” Spock asked, lifting the drooping head of a daisy to reveal the smallest yellow button of a dandelion poking out of the soil. It was so well-hidden, Jim wasn’t surprised the gardeners had missed it. “Is it rare? It is the first I’ve seen of its kind.”
Jim’s face split into a wide grin. “Terribly rare,” he said, “but since you’re an honored guest I am happy to give you the honor of picking it.”
Regarding the plant for a moment, Spock tilted his head, a line of consternation between his brows. “That is an illogical gift, as its rarity can only be prized when it is in the process of growth. To sever a specimen from its roots for a few days of aesthetic pleasure seems practically barbaric. It would be far more fitting--” Spock pulled his eyes suddenly back to Jim, pausing, considering, taking in Jim’s smile as though it were a foreign language he was having trouble translating. Although, Jim supposed, perhaps it was.
An eyebrow lifted and nearly disappeared into the straight line of Spock’s bangs. “It is a weed,” Spock finally said, and Jim could feel his own smile stretch.
“You caught me.”
Spock huffed, but he didn’t look upset. Instead, he gently lowered the head of the daisy he’d pushed aside and stepped away from the bed. “Even so, I believe its resilience should be rewarded. I would prefer not to pluck it.”
Jim tucked his hands into his pockets as a cool breeze whispered past. Spock’s eyes were still trained on the garden bed, and he looked contemplative, a little serene, far less uncomfortable than he’d seemed all day.
Jim felt no small bit of pride at that. He would have to tell Sam, he realized suddenly, that Spock was fond of the gardens. It might help ease the tension of the awkward courtship the two were meant to embark on.
For a time after that, they walked in near silence. The leaves of golden hops and sweet purple wisteria flowers hung above their heads as they passed quietly under trellises, shadowed completely in the deep blue of night, but still bearing their overwhelmingly bright scent. When he and Spock looped around the visible portion of the garden and returned to where they had begun, Spock paused, half in the circle of light that came from the palace and half shadowed. The contrast of blue and yellow against the lines of his face was striking.
“Thank you,” he said softly as they slowed to a halt, “for the stroll. I find this place quite soothing.”
Jim turned to face him, a quizzical sort of smile growing on his face. It was seldom Spock offered any statement that may have indicated emotion. Even when they were kids-- especially when they were kids-- the only times he spoke were when the conversation centered on science, facts, things he could (and often did) explain. The closest he ever got to admitting emotion was when he called things ‘fascinating,’ which seemed to be a favorite term of his.
‘Soothing’ was a strange choice of words for the Vulcan, but it made Jim happy.
“I’m glad,” he said honestly. “Maybe I can show you around the rest of the palace tomorrow.” He stopped himself, then glanced to the side, reaching up to run a hand through his hair. He had forgotten his place for a moment. Or, rather, forgotten his brother’s place. “Ah, but that’s probably something you’d rather do with your fiance. You should ask him. I’m sure he’d be happy to take you on a tour.”
Spock seemed to straighten-- though Jim hadn’t noticed his posture relax in the first place-- pulling himself tall and taut as though he’d been zipped up at his back. “While the decision to be wed has not been finalized, you do make a logical point,” he said, “Nevertheless, I appreciate your kindness, Prince James.”
Jim felt a tinge of pity for Spock, then, his loneliness, the uncertainty of his future. Though he would never be anything but welcome here, Jim could only imagine what leaving one’s entire life behind entailed. Jim’s heart had been aching for Sam, but it now beat painfully in his chest for Spock. Of the two of them, the Vulcan had the worse end of the bargain. But Jim vowed in that moment to be the best brother-in-law he could be, to offer him welcome when he needed it. Starting now.
“Please, Spock. It’s Jim.”
Spock’s lips quirked, so subtle Jim wasn’t sure he’d even seen it, and he tilted his head downward slightly. “Jim, then, if you prefer.”
“I do,” Jim said with a chuckle, “emphatically.”
But even as he caught Spock’s eyes once again, Jim felt the exhaustion return, something that weighed heavy on him and tried to pull a yawn out of his reluctant chest. Fighting it back, he glanced toward the glittering palace.
“Of course,” Spock said swiftly. “It is quite late. You would do well to retire. I believe I will meditate here for a time.”
Jim had heard Vulcans reference meditation many times before, but he wondered that Spock wanted to do so here. From what he understood, they mostly meditated in dark rooms, something enclosed and safe, surrounded by candles. It was something to ask Nyota about tomorrow, he decided.
“Alright, well,” Jim began, some of the nervousness of the beginning of their encounter returning, though he was unsure why. “It was nice to walk with you for a little while.”
“And you. Good night, Jim.”
He didn’t know why he paused, then. Why some part of him wanted to linger. Maybe it was the fact that Spock had finally called him by his nickname, or the fact that the artificial light that shone from the palace and splashed over the brilliant green of the garden seemed unreal, unwelcoming after their walk.
“Good night, Spock,” he finally offered with a small smile, knowing he’d taken a little bit too long to answer. Then, he turned back to the palace, ascending the steps. As he made his way back to his wing, passing quiet servants and tall white statues, he decided that he would tell Sam tomorrow to take Spock on a tour. Spock wouldn’t ask for one, Jim was sure, but it would only be right to help him acclimate to his new home. Spock needed to settle, and it was up to all of them to help him do so.
He was going to be part of the family someday, after all. Jim was becoming more comfortable with the idea; he only hoped Sam would, too.