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To Be Wed

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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.

“I should...”

“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.

Chapter Text

Even the tireless Terran court couldn’t keep up the pace they established those first few days. The first night’s extravagant feast was followed by an equally extravagant brunch the next morning, then a garden party on the lawns, then a performance by a traveling Shakespearean company, then a series of even more extravagant meals over the course of the ensuing week.

Through the seemingly endless parade of niceties and repetitive conversations about the state of alliances, Jim kept a careful eye on his brother, which meant he also kept a careful eye on Spock. The two could seldom be found outside each other’s company during events, though Jim had a feeling by the tight discomfort in Sam’s face that their proximity wasn’t always by choice. Then again, it was possible Sam was simply uncomfortable with the decorum, the politics, the people. He’d never been very good at these sorts of events, nor had he ever enjoyed them.

For a future king, being kingly had never really suited Sam, and it was obvious he was under more stress than usual. Jim didn’t have many opportunities to ask him how he was doing, but he would sometimes butt into Sam and Spock’s conversation to diffuse some tension, and he didn’t think he imagined that both of them seemed to be grateful for it.

But as the days edged by, things began to quiet down around the palace, and there were fewer performances, fewer feasts, fewer obligations. Jim was glad of it, as he hadn’t had time to do much of anything for himself. Nor had most of them.

It was probably their cultural advisor who suffered the brunt of it, as she also had the responsibility of planning all of these events. But according to Nyota, it would all be worth it in the end.

She told Jim as they laid chatting on his bed one evening that all of this was to get the Vulcans-- especially Spock-- comfortable.

“He needs a buffer,” she said lamely, as though she were as tired of discussing the Vulcans as she was of entertaining them. Her hands lay slack on her belly as her eyelids began to fall closed, and she slumped a little more noticeably against the padded headboard.

“What do you mean, a ‘buffer’?” Jim asked when it looked as though Nyota might begin to doze off without continuing her thought.

“Oh, it wouldn’t do to just shove him in a room with Sam and expect him to be comfortable,” she said with a tired wave of her hand. “This gives Spock a chance to get to know him in context, you know?”

Jim sighed and leaned back, closing his own eyes. He thought back on the last week or so. True, the families had wasted no opportunity to ensure Sam and Spock spent ample time together, but there had always been people around. Though Jim had told Sam a tour might be a nice way to get Spock comfortable, he knew there hadn’t yet been time for anything of the sort. Nor had Sam tried very hard to create such an opportunity, if Jim were being honest with himself.

“I thought the marriage was a done deal,” Jim mused. “Why are our families even bothering with this ‘getting to know each other’ act?”

The question had occurred to him before, but he’d never really thought of who to ask. Nyota, he supposed, would probably have the least-biased opinion of it. And in her current state of exhaustion, Jim knew she wouldn’t have a filter.

She shifted sleepily beside him, resting her head on his shoulder. He cracked his eyes open to watch as she stifled a yawn with a hand over her mouth. It took her a moment to speak. “Courtship’s as much a Vulcan tradition as it is a human one,” she said. “They can’t very well launch into a marriage with no background for it.”

Jim rolled his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest. He jostled Nyota with the motion, and she gave him an annoyed sort of pout before she flopped fully onto the bed. “But they can launch into a marriage without being in love, apparently,” he grumbled.

Nyota looked up at him, rolling onto her side. “Who’s to say they won’t fall in love?” she asked. “They seem to be getting along.”

Jim considered that, fingering the hem of his sleeve. Spock and Sam did seem to have plenty to talk about, and enough common childhood experiences to draw a thread between them. In spite of Sam’s outward discomfort, it was possible there was some kind of fondness growing between them. Maybe Nyota had a point.

Can Vulcans fall in love?” he asked, and Nyota let out a honking sort of laugh. Jim couldn’t help his little jolt of surprise, looking down at her with no small bit of amusement. He always liked spending time with Nyota outside the court. She never would have let out a sound so boorish as that one in front of dignitaries.

“They say they can’t,” she said to explain her laughter, “but have you ever seen the way King Sarek looks at his wife? Trust me, they’re capable.”

Jim had indeed seen the look on King Sarek’s face when he seemed to think no one was looking. Just the other day, Amanda had been laughing with an old friend of the Terran court and Sarek had stood beside her with a gentle, almost imperceptible curl to his lips and a softness around the edges of his eyes that made him look younger than he was. Happy.

So far, Jim definitely hadn’t seen Spock look at Sam like that, but anything was possible, he supposed. While Jim wandered those bunny trails in his head, Nyota let out another yawn, tucking her face into the pillow to stifle it. He turned back to her, patting her arm gently.

“Alright, alright,” he said, “you’d better get some rest.”

“Okay. Good night,” she said, voice muffled, nuzzling in deeper. Jim laughed and shook her slightly.

“Come on, Nyota. You know people will talk if you wander out of here in the morning.”

With a roll of her eyes, Nyota turned onto her stomach, kicking up her legs and offering Jim a flirty sort of smile. “Maybe I want them to talk,” she said lowly. “Quite the notch on my bedpost, you know. Sleeping with a Prince!” Hand flying to her head, she rolled dramatically onto her back.

Jim shoved her, though he was still giggling. “You know, a few years ago I would’ve taken you up on that in a heartbeat,” he said, “but I’m pretty sure you’d rather sleep with the Tellarite ambassador than me.”

With a visible shudder, she rolled off the bed, climbing a little unsteadily to her feet. “Don’t even joke about that,” she admonished, horror palpable in her tone as she brushed the wrinkles out of her dress. “And don’t you dare give him any ideas.”

They laughed, and Jim clambered of the bed himself. He felt rumpled, exhausted, still wearing his formal-casual tunic and the trousers that always cut painfully into his stomach, but he was glad he’d stayed up to spend some time with his friend. Sometimes it felt like she was the only reasonable person in this palace.

Walking her to the door, Jim laid a gentle hand on her back to steer her out. “Good night, Nyota,” he said. “Please get some sleep.”

Her responding smile seemed tired, but it broke her lips and smoothed some of the lines from the corners of her eyes. “Yes, your highness ,” she said with a mock courtesy, and Jim gave her a light shove out the door.

He waved her down the hall. It was late already, and by the way she practically dragged her feet he hoped she might actually get some rest now.

When he closed the door behind her, he rested his forehead against it for a moment, his own exhaustion now peaking. But still there was something tugging at him. Concern, maybe. Worry. Uncertainty. It was hard to place, but he didn’t like it.

Shrugging out of his embroidered tunic, he tossed it on the bed and wandered over to the window. His rooms overlooked the gardens, and he took a moment to take in what little he could see of them. Just barely, he could make out the outline of the towering sunflowers down below. A small smile ticked his lips without thought, some warm kind of feeling pulling at him.

But he was too tired to examine it. Instead, he dragged himself back to his bed, commanding the lights off as he shed his trousers and fell bodily onto the mattress.

He wondered, somewhere vague in the back of his mind as he edged off to sleep, if Spock had continued to take nighttime strolls, or if he’d been just as exhausted as the rest of them lately. Maybe, Jim thought, he would ask him tomorrow.

Tomorrow, however, turned out to be exceptionally quiet.

 


 

“Nothing? At all?”

“Darling,” Winona said, absentmindedly poking at her eggs with her fork. Her other hand propped up her chin, and she looked fondly at Jim across the table. “Didn’t Nyota send a schedule to your padd this morning?”

“It was blank. I thought it was a glitch,” Jim mumbled, though even that sound echoed in the nearly empty breakfast hall. It was just the three of them: Winona, George and Jim-- and a few servants hovering by the doors in case they needed anything.

George had a warm smile on his face, too, looking more relaxed than Jim had seen him in the last few days.

“Well, we’ve been rather busy, haven’t we? It’s about time we give ourselves a break,” George said, setting down his own fork and patting his belly. Jim gave his parents a smile and leaned back in his seat.

“Well I’m not going to complain,” he said, a gentle wave of relief slipping over him. “What about our guests?”

Winona glanced at George, raising her head from her hand and then turning her attention to her plate. “Well,” she said, somewhat nervously, “Sam and Spock are off-- oh, what did Sam say? On a tour of the palace? Then lunch together, I think.”

George nodded, laying a hand on her thigh under the table.

“And Sarek and Amanda are resting. For his health,” Winona said.

Ah. That seemed to be the source of her discomfort. She cast another look to George then, as though asking if she should say more than that.

“Is he alright?” Jim asked, sitting up a little straighter. Winona just gave him one of those tiny smiles she usually reserved for the courts.

“Of course he is,” she said, and Jim gave her a look that he knew was about as transparent as her lie had been.

But he decided not to dissect that statement-- he knew better than to do so, given the Vulcan King’s penchant for privacy. So he simply nodded his understanding and set down his silverware. Sarek wasn’t an old man, but he wasn’t young either. The likelihood of intermittent health problems was pretty high, and given how the court as a whole had been burning the candle at both ends...

“Well, then I suppose I’ll spend a few hours in the library,” Jim said, the change in subject intentional. “What are you two going to do?”

Winona gave George a smile and gripped his hand under the table. “A walk, I think. It’s a beautiful day now that the rain’s cleared. Do you really want to stay cooped up inside, Jimmy?”

Jim just gave her a smile as he stood. “After all the running around we’ve been doing, it might be nice. You enjoy your walk.”

They both waved their goodbyes as he departed into the nearly empty corridors. The palace was indeed a little less than bustling. He assumed most people were out on the lawns, in the gardens, at the ocean, kicking around town, doing anything but staying inside reading, but Jim found there was little else he wanted to do. It had been days since he’d had a chance to relax with a good book, and while he was capable of doing so in his room, he found he prefered the general airiness of the library.

It was nearly empty when he made his way through the massive doors, as suspected, with only a few courtiers and a handful of the palace’s scientists milling about between high shelves of datadiscs and old-fashioned books.

The ceiling reached nearly eighty feet upwards, extravagantly high given that the library boasted only the one floor, but Jim always loved the echo of footsteps on the stone floor, the way a single whisper could carry to the other end of the room and a communal rhythm filled the air every time someone set to typing on one of the computer consoles set up on the northern wall.

Jim waved at the people who looked up at his arrival, acknowledging their short bows with a nod of his head, but rather than stopping to chat with anyone, he made his way to the far corner of the library. In his mind, he ran down a list of some titles he might want to peruse, thoroughly distracted by the decision, choosing between scientific studies or some rousing adventure novel. But just as he turned a corner around the last shelf in the line, he paused, momentarily taken off-guard.

There was something to be said for Spock continuing to show up in Jim’s favorite places. Jim didn’t know what that something was exactly, but when he saw Spock standing comfortably before a shelf in the astronomy section, bent at the waist and scanning the labels, he had to admit he lost his train of thought.

Spock wasn’t wearing his formal robes. Rather, he sported a flowing black shirt, long-sleeved with a panel of shining black fabric draped across his front, fastened just above the opposite shoulder with a simple circular broach. His breeches, Jim didn’t fail to notice, were tight, steel gray, an iridescent strip tracing the line of his leg. But more than any of this, Jim’s attention was drawn upward. The white light coming in from the towering library windows glinted along the curve of Spock’s head. Though Vulcan royals didn’t wear crowns or circlets, the light haloed Spock, made him look regal, elegant. Jim felt himself unwilling to draw attention to himself lest he distract Spock, break the moment, cause him to move out of that beam.

But as he stared, Spock lifted his head, straightened, and turned to face him. While it took a moment for Jim to regain himself, he did register the expression of surprise that passed over Spock’s own face again. But it wasn’t tight as it had been that night in the garden. If anything, he looked almost pleased.

“Prince James,” he greeted, and Jim remembered suddenly to smile. Spock hadn’t called him Jim since that first night-- maybe having second-guessed the familiarity.

“Prince Spock,” Jim said, following by example, and moving a little closer now that his legs remembered how to work. “What are you doing here? I understood you were off with Sam, lunching together or something.”

Spock tucked his hands behind his back, as though standing at attention. “That was on the day’s agenda, yes,” he confirmed. “However, Prince George either had an urgent engagement or found himself suddenly fatigued. The exact nature of his conflict was unclear.”

Jim felt his smile slip slightly. That sounded like a classic Sam lie. Specifically, in that it was painfully transparent. And here, Sam was supposed to be a politician . He’d never been able to lie, to negotiate, to perfect any of those kingly skills that would someday be expected of him. And now...

“Oh,” Jim said, trying to figure out exactly how to respond. Sam blowing off his fiance so obviously could be considered a grave political affront, if Spock decided to take it as such. Jim should try to undo the damage or make excuses or apologize on Sam’s behalf or--

“I am not offended,” Spock offered gently, as though he had sensed Jim’s panic, and Jim was glad he kept his voice low, mindful of the echo. “I assure you, our situation causes mutual discomfort.”

Jim’s body uncoiled a little tension, and he found his breath returning.

“That’s good,” he said, then caught himself, shaking his head and pinching the bridge of his nose. “I mean to say, it’s not good that you’re uncomfortable, but good that you understand. Where he’s coming from.”

Spock rested his hand somewhat absently on the shelf beside him. “Indeed,” he said, glancing back at the titles, though Jim doubted he was reading them, “This betrothal came as quite a shock to me as well. It is regrettable that I am more able to logically process it than your brother. I do not begrudge him his need for solitude.”

Jim felt something tightening his chest, gratitude he was sure showed in his eyes. Spock could easily have blamed Sam, could have caused a fuss. But instead he understood and quietly tucked himself away here-- likely to avoid inciting any questions. Jim appreciated that. Sometimes it felt as though he was the only one looking out for his brother, and even he didn't do a very good job of it.

And though Jim understood Sam’s reticence, he wondered if Sam had given himself the chance to see this side of Spock. Maybe the prospect of marrying him would be a little less scary if he just realized that Spock was actually quite kind, intelligent, and yes, certainly more handsome than Jim would’ve predicted when they were teenagers. Though, of course, that was hardly the most important thing.

“So what are your plans for your free afternoon, then?” Jim heard himself asking, though he hadn’t made the conscious decision to do so. He’d simply realized he’d been quiet a little too long, and blurted out the first thing that came into his mind.

“I confess, I have none,” Spock replied. His tone was almost testing, as though he knew there was an offer, a suggestion hanging on the end of Jim’s question, even if Jim hadn’t been aware of it when he’d asked.

“Well,” Jim said, and those nerves returned again, insistent and strange and out of place. “Would you like to play some chess?”

Spock tilted his head slightly, eyes probing, recalling Jim of an inquisitive cat. The mental comparison made Jim grin. Spock’s eyes flicked down to his smile, then returned to his eyes, and Jim thought suddenly that it must be strange for Spock to be surrounded by smiling faces all the time. Uncomfortable, even.

“That would be adequate,” he finally said, and Jim felt a flash of relief, just as strange as his nerves had been. It would have been perfectly fine if Spock had decided he would rather spend his time alone, but somehow his acceptance felt affirming.

Nyota’s words returned to him, that Spock needed to be comfortable. If Sam didn’t have it in him to try right now, then Jim would have to step in.

He found he didn’t really mind doing so.

He led Spock away from the library’s seemingly endless stacks and shelves and to the windows that stretched floor-to-ceiling along the far wall, which overlooked the garden. A few chess tables had been set up aside the windows many years ago, at Jim’s own request. It had always been lovely on summer days to sit in slices of sunlight and play for a while, either against his mother or the computer or a passing courtier. At least, it was pleasant during most times of the day. As the hour approached midday, the summer sun sizzled against the metal seats. Jim settled himself gingerly in one of them and pressed the controls by the window that would tint the transparent aluminum. The effect cast a long, thin shadow over their table alone, and he looked to Spock.

“Is that alright? Sorry it’s a little hot.” Spock settled in across from him and began to set up the board, placing the black pieces on his own side. Giving Jim the advantage? Well, Jim wouldn’t turn it down.

“There is no need to apologize,” Spock said softly. “I am accustomed to a much hotter climate.”

Jim laughed a little, remembering the last time he had visited Vulcan. It had also been the last time he’d seen Spock before this week, nearly ten years ago.

“I remember your climate,” he said, setting his own pieces into place. “My parents hardly let me go outside that whole trip.”

“It would have been inadvisable for a Terran prince to die of heatstroke while on a diplomatic visit, though as I recall you did make an admirable effort at it.” Spock motioned for Jim to take the first move, settling his hands rather gracefully in his lap.

Jim wiggled his fingers over a few of his pawns, flirting with his possibilities, and eventually settled. Resting his chin in his hand and crossing his legs at the ankle, he made a casual move.

“One bad decision,” he said dismissively, “And you were the one who told me there was a swimming hole nearby.”

Spock took in a little nasal breath, almost a laugh -- but no. That would have been absurd.

A few more moves passed between them, a silence settling. Jim had just begun to think of how to fill it before Spock, almost unconsciously, gave voice to a thought.

“If I remember correctly,” Spock said quietly, the reminder of his eidetic memory hanging unsaid in the air, “I informed you that there was a volcanic lake eight miles away, across the Forge. Hardly nearby, and hardly fit for swimming. Or hiking to alone.”

Jim’s chuckle drew itself from his belly, echoing around them, and he hardly heard the shush that came from somewhere between the shelves to his side. “Oh, I was 16,” he said with a wave of his hand, then captured Spock’s errant knight. He knew it was a trap by the layout of the board, but he had a plan. In the meantime, it was satisfying to see Spock’s very slight expression of triumph at the move. “I wasn’t always good at paying strict attention,” Jim continued, “nor do I think I had any sense of self-preservation.”

“From what I understand,” Spock said gently, executing the first phase of his trap with a sacrificial pawn, “you still lack any sense of self-preservation.”

“Sam’s been talking about me behind my back, has he?” Jim asked with a sideways smile, taking the baited pawn. “You  know, it’s not quite fair. Your brother’s not around; it’s not as though I can ask him for embarrassing stories about you .”

“As none exist, it would be a fruitless line of questioning,” Spock said assuredly.

Jim tapped his finger skeptically against his lips giving Spock a long look, though Spock didn’t glance up from the board. Spock’s nimble fingers grazed the top of his queen, then advanced her forward, providing Jim with the opening he’d been waiting for.

The velvet of the piece’s base settled softly into its spot, and Jim waited a moment as if considering, though he’d been planning this move since Spock laid his trap. Then, he took up his knight and slipped it into the queen’s vacated space. He canted his eyes to Spock, wanting to watch the exact moment Spock realized he’d been beaten. “How about losing a game of logic to a Terran? Within ten minutes , even.” Jim said, a tease in his tone. “ Quite embarrassing, Prince Spock.”

Spock examined the board as though it were an intricate mess of machinery, tracing the imaginary lines of their previous moves, cataloguing where he had made his mistakes. He looked back to Jim after a moment, his eyes narrowed (but not unkindly), his lips quirked in an almost-smile.

“Well-played, Jim,” Spock said quietly.

Jim felt a sudden and uncomfortable hitch in his chest, something indecipherable and aching that caught him off-guard. And maybe he would have recognized this feeling in any other situation. With any other person. But here, now, it eluded him, a strange physical mystery that he found he did not want to take the time to solve.

“Again?” he suggested.

Spock nodded, already beginning to reset the board. “Please.”

“Why don’t you take white this time?” Jim suggested, not a little confidently.

Spock tilted his head up, regarding Jim. “Normally I would protest the advantage, but I believe it would be prudent to accept.”

“You’re a smart man, your highness.”

“As are you.”

If Jim accidentally fumbled over the piece he was attempting to set down or felt a flush hit his cheeks, it was likely just the effect of the heat. Of all people, he recognized the potential for disaster in any other reasoning.

 


 

The next few days, Sam seemed to make a habit of agreeing to sudden, important engagements or succumbing to fatigue. Sometimes, the engagements were legitimate. There was a land dispute that needed settling while King George was out of the palace, and a meeting regarding the planet treasury that Sam had to attend, after all. But still there were times that Sam disappeared entirely without explanation. Jim assumed, during the public events at least, that Sam ran off to his rooms every now and again to catch his breath, to calm down. But when or if he did end up returning, he seemed somehow more exhausted each time.

Once, Sam seemed to vanish into thin air during a court-wide demonstration of a black hole simulator, created by one of the court scientists. Jim, noticing his brother’s absence and the lone silhouette of Spock against the light of the dome which housed the flickering spectacle of the experiment, sidled up beside Spock in the crowd to seek his opinion on it. At first, it had been simply a way to distract Spock from his solitude, to ensure the Vulcan royal family didn’t see him standing alone. But Jim found after a few minutes that he rather liked listening to the way Spock (without devaluing any of Terra’s scientists) suggested ways to improve their methods. That had been the first time Spock had gifted Jim with that soon-familiar expression of gratitude, as though he truly didn’t want to be left alone in this sea of people. Jim was proud of himself for having been able to read the need in his future brother-in-law. And if it meant he could mitigate some of the political damage done by Sam’s absence, so much the better.

Some evening following, the royal families had quit the palace to attend a performance at the grand theater. It was a complex blend of acrobatics, music, contortion and dance, and though the message of it (if there was one) went over Jim’s head, he found himself enjoying it all the same. Sam had left with a flurry of apologies during intermission, citing sudden illness, and Jim had slipped into his vacated seat to keep Spock company. Occasionally, he would nudge Spock with his elbow after a particularly fabulous stunt, forgetting himself for a moment, but Spock never quite seemed to mind.

It was about two weeks into the Vulcans’ visit to Terra that Sam actually came to Jim before he vanished without a trace, a surprising courtesy, given everything.

“Morning, Jim,” Sam greeted as soon as Jim opened the door to his room. Jim’s eyes were still stuck with sleep, his pajama shirt rumpled and hanging from his shoulder, his hair sticking up on end, and he was grateful it was his brother and not someone more important when he realized he wasn’t actually wearing pants.

He waved Sam inside, stifling a yawn with his other hand, and heard the door slide shut behind them.

“Was’ going on?” Jim asked sleepily, settling on the edge of his bed while he rubbed his eyes. It was midmorning, but he still hadn’t yet recovered from the deluge of social obligations, and he found he’d been sleeping in more often. When he had the option at least.

Sam shuffled awkwardly near the doorway, tugging at his mustache. He looked awake, dressed and rested, but decidedly uncomfortable. “I was hoping you’d be willing to do me a favor,” he asked.

Jim straightened a little bit at the seriousness of the tone, wondering if he should be worried. He hadn’t spoken much with Sam one-on-one recently, but Sam’s countenance made him think that maybe he should have.

“What do you need?” Jim asked, implying his ‘yes’ without outright stating it.

Sam didn’t seem to want to look at Jim. “Would you be willing to spend some time with Spock today? I told mom and dad that I was going to take him out of the palace, go explore San Francisco, but I’m-- I’m exhausted. And I have a few meetings later I wouldn’t mind preparing for and--”

Jim cut him off with a flat gesture of his hand, his sleep addled brain still trying to catch up.

“You’re asking me to take your fiance on a date?” he asked, just to clarify, because that seemed to be what Sam was suggesting.

“If you would,” Sam rushed to say. “Obviously it wouldn’t be a date , but just, I don't know, something fun. Get him out of the palace. He seems to be a little restless.”

Jim’s eyes hardened slightly, though he didn’t mean for them to. He never quite had control over himself before his coffee. “Of course he is,” Jim said with a flop of his hands. “You’re always running off and leaving him to his own devices. It’s not like he’s familiar enough with Terra to occupy himself all the time. You were supposed to help him with that. Get him settled in.”

Sam’s cheeks seemed to flush, and he looked to his shoes. “I know,” he said lamely. “but Jim--”

“You know he’s uncomfortable, too,” Jim continued, not quite willing to listen to the excuse just yet. “But he’s still making an effort, isn’t he? Listen, Sam.” Here Jim stood, rubbing his head tiredly as he approached his brother. “You have a-- a responsibility . I know it’s horrible. I know it’s not what you wanted, but you said you would. You’re going to be king someday. You have to be able to--”

Sam’s eyes narrowed, and he took a pointed step away from Jim, hands clenched at his sides.

“What would you know about being king?” He asked, the suddenness of his anger sobering Jim immediately. “You’re the one who gets to do whatever he wants. You’re the one who can read your books all day and play with your fleet like-- like they’re toy boats in the bathtub! You can-- you can leave the palace anytime you want, avoid the meetings and the functions and the fanfare and no one will tell you you can't!” Sam threw his hands in the air. “You’re the one who can choose what to do with his life. Marry… marry whomever you want, and--” Sam’s voice broke, and Jim felt his anger flee him. He held out a hand as if in placation.

“Sam,” he said gently, and Sam looked to him again, his own flash of frustration seeming to dissipate.

“Just,” Sam took in a breath to steady himself. “Just, please, give me today. Let me step back a little bit and get myself in order. I promise from here on out I will try.”

Jim settled his hands on his hips, gauging his brother’s sincerity. He knew Sam very well, and knew when he was lying. He didn’t seem to be this time. At least, not about this.

With a sigh, Jim let his hands drop to his sides. “Fine,” he said. “If nothing else I’ll show him around the city so he has somewhere to go next time you leave him high and dry. Just… you have to handle this, okay?” He gestured to Sam, to his frantic worry. Jim wanted to be there for him, but he had been cleaning up after Sam for two weeks now. Sam had already said he was committed to making this work, now he just had to act like he was.

But Sam didn’t seem to hear anything after the word ‘fine.’ He exhaled his relief and stepped forward, clapping Jim on the shoulder. “Thank you, Jim. And it won’t be terrible for you, right? You get along?”

Shrugging, Jim waved his brother off of him, wishing he knew how to stay angry with him. “Sure we do. He’s not a hard person to get along with if you just give it a shot.”

“I know,” Sam assured him. “I just need to… to give it a shot.”

Jim tried for a smile, which came out much more like a grimace. “Alright. You go do whatever it is you need to do, okay? I’ll fetch your fiance, I suppose.”

 


 

If Jim were being honest with himself, he really didn’t mind doing this particular favor for Sam. Not on a personal level. He hadn’t been out of the palace himself much recently, and he did enjoy spending time with Spock. What he took issue with was Sam’s complete unwillingness to try to make things work, even when he’d told Jim flat out that he wasn’t going to try to get out of it. It was obvious Sam and Spock got along well enough, but Sam had some mental block that just wouldn’t allow him to give Spock the chance. When Nyota had asked Jim to consider the possibility of Sam and Spock falling in love, he’d wondered if Spock was capable. Now, he wondered if Sam was.

But when he explained Sam’s absence to Spock where he'd finally found him in the dining hall, the Vulcan didn’t seem overly perturbed.

“It is of no importance,” Spock said, setting aside his fork. He had been eating alone when Jim arrived, fork embedded in some strange, gelatinous purple dish that didn’t exactly read as breakfast food, but Jim supposed it was probably closer to Spock's lunchtime than anything. “I do not mind spending time in the library.”

“Actually,” Jim said, leaning his elbows on the table, “I was thinking you might want to get out of the palace for the day. I know Sam has been too busy to take you out into the city, but San Francisco has a lot to offer.”

Spock seemed to consider it. Something was working behind his eyes, and Jim wondered exactly what he was weighing. “You are not obligated,” Spock said slowly. “It is not your responsibility to ‘show me a good time,’ as humans say.”

Thinning his lips, Jim gave Spock a shrug, his argument with his brother returning to his mind, unbidden. “No,” he said, “it’s not. But I’m offering. Trust me, I want to get out of the palace sometimes, too.”

Spock took another few moments to think it over, scanning Jim’s face. “Very well,” he answered finally. “It would be logical to learn more of this city.”

Patting the table with his hand, matter settled, Jim stood. “Great! Then go ahead and finish up and find something casual to wear. I’ll meet you at the garage in, say, an hour?”

Spock nodded, “That would be agreeable.”

Jim gave him another grin, pleased in spite of himself. The circumstances weren’t ideal, but this had the potential to be fun. And it would certainly be a distraction from his constant worry that Sam was inadvertently sabotaging Terra’s relationship with Vulcan.

 


 

 

It took about as much time as Jim expected for him to clean up and find his own civilian clothes, a pair of simple jeans and a collared shirt. By the time he wandered into the garage-- more a hangar, really-- Spock was already there, inspecting the wide range of vehicles at the royal family’s disposal.

Alongside classic and modern cars and transports, a selection of motorcycles leaned on kickstands in perfectly neat rows against the far wall. Moreover, small shuttles stood stationary on their struts toward the back, and each of them shined bright in the lights that glared from the vaulted ceiling. Their mechanic, a friendly and overly enthusiastic Scottsman, didn’t seem to be around, so when Jim arrived Spock was wandering freely through the machines.

“I said dress casually,” Jim called as he approached, waving when Spock turned to regard him.

Spock was wearing something similar to what he wore in the library when they’d had their first chess match, tight breeches and a flowing shirt, this one hued in royal blue.

“These are my most casual clothes,” Spock responded, and Jim laughed. Of course they were. Jim would look like trash in comparison, but at least the likelihood of being recognized was lower if everyone was looking at Spock.

“Well if you get tourists asking to take pictures with you, that’s on you, not me,” Jim joked. “But, this will help.” He moved toward Spock, who came to meet him in the middle of the garage, inquisitive as Jim pulled something from his back pocket. He held the folded square of black-knit fabric out to Spock and couldn’t contain his look of amusement as Spock unfurled it.

“A hat?”

“A beanie,” Jim corrected, though the terminology was hardly important. “I mean, you do look incredibly Vulcan in that outfit, but at least with this people might think twice before assuming.”

With a dubious look, Spock pulled the beanie over his head, settling its hem around his ears and raising an eyebrow at Jim. The gesture was lost in the hat, but Jim crossed his arms over his chest, nodding his approval.

“It doesn’t exactly match,” he mused, “but it suits you.”

“I will take your word for it,” Spock said, adjusting it slightly.

Jim laughed, patting Spock on the shoulder before turning back to the nearest row of cars. He perused them for a moment, then paused at one of the simpler models, running his fingers along the hood. It was still a great deal too fancy to be considered incognito, but at least it wasn’t a limo. “This one will do,” he said, turning back to Spock, “Now come on, no sense wasting daylight.”

It turned out, however, that there wasn’t much light to waste. The day was gloomy, with dark clouds rolling in off the bay, and Jim was sure a storm was on its way. There were a few places he’d planned to take Spock, but the Golden Gate Bridge had been among them. He decided that, if they hurried, they could probably make it before the storm.

“I am surprised you know how to operate a vehicle,” Spock said as they pulled out of the palace’s wide gates. The city gleamed off in the distance, skyscrapers reflecting the gray light of the day, and they could see the long stretch of dark, churning water far off.

“Benefit of being the younger brother,” Jim said kindly, speeding them along. “I’m allowed out and about with a little more freedom than Sam. Of course, they prefer I take a security escort, but thank goodness I don’t need a chauffeur.” He chuckled at the thought. He’d never considered himself important enough for all the bells and whistles that accompanied royalty, so he was grateful when they weren’t required.

They chatted for a while as they drove, Jim pointing out landmarks. He suggested the California Academy of Sciences for another day, since they’d likely want a good few hours to explore the museum, but he promised Spock the best view in the city and at least one quality restaurant for today’s outing.

When they pulled up to the parking lot nearest to the bridge, tourists were already pouring off the walkways, likely anticipating rain. Jim hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella, but they wouldn’t go far. Just long enough to see the sea, absorb the power of it, the scent. He climbed out of the car with Spock in tow and breathed in the air.

“Ah,” he said softly, “you smell that?”

“You can smell the ocean from the palace, Jim,” Spock said, and Jim was so distracted by the cool wind he didn’t even notice the use of his nickname.

“It’s not quite the same though, is it?” he asked, circling round the car. “Being right here is always so much more satisfying.”

Spock gave him an indulgent, if bemused look as Jim took him lightly by the elbow and led him along toward the walkway. As suspected, some tourists did stare, taking in Spock’s needlessly elegant outfit, but thankfully none tried to stop them.

A muttered “Is that…?” reached his ears, followed by “No way, not without an escort…”

Smatterings of similar conversation seemed to surround them, but soon they had bypassed the worst of the crowds, and the people who did look to be making the long walk across the bridge had hoods pulled over their heads against the wind, obscuring their periphery.

Jim was glad no one had outright recognized them. He himself seldom received attention out of his royal finery, for which he was thankful, and he had been right that no one spared him a second glance when Spock was right there beside him.

When they mounted the steps and started off along the bridge, Jim slowed his pace, looking to his side to take it all in. He’d lived in San Francisco his whole life, but he never quite got tired of this walk. If Spock wanted to get to know Terra, especially the city he’d be living in, this was a good place to start, especially now that there were so few people on the bridge to distract him.

“The ocean never fails to surprise me,” Spock mused to Jim’s side as they walked, and Jim smiled at him, pleased that for once Spock had been the one to offer some crumb of conversation first. “Vulcan contains bodies of water, of course, but none so vast. It is quite beautiful.”

“That sounds an awful lot like an expression of emotion,” Jim teased, but there wasn’t any real accusation in it.

Spock kept walking, hands clasped at the small of his back, giving no indication that he had taken it negatively. “Merely an aesthetic appreciation,” he replied.

“It is beautiful,” Jim agreed, a sort of sigh accompanying his words that he knew got lost in the sound of the breeze. “I hope you get a chance to see the rest of Terra. The mountains, the deserts-- you’d like that a bit more than the ocean, I’d think.”

Spock nodded, something passing over his face that Jim didn’t have time to decipher before it fled. “It is likely I will see a great deal of Terra in coming years. If I am to rule alongside your brother, I should cultivate a familiarity with every aspect of the planet.”

“Logical of you,” Jim said, nudging Spock slightly with his elbow.

“I endeavor to be,” Spock replied, and Jim thought by the slight tilt to his lips that he may have been teasing. Of course, it wasn’t likely, but it made Jim happy to think so.

“You seem fond of Terra,” Spock said gently, distracting Jim from his thoughts.

“I am,” Jim said, running his hand along the railing as they walked, glancing down into the roiling waves. “It’s such a diverse planet. The people, the environments… it’s impossible to get tired of it.” Even as he said it, though, he thought of the thrill of stepping down on other worlds, the excitement of alien scents and colors unfamiliar to the natural world he was used to. It had been a couple years since he was last off-planet, and he’d only seen a fraction of the incredible things his captains saw as they sped through the galaxy. He was a little envious of them. And, too, he was envious of Sam. As King, Sam would be expected to make diplomatic visits to allied planets, to meet dignitaries from newly discovered worlds, to see skies with unfamiliar constellations and--

“And yet, you wish to travel.” Jim turned his eyes back to Spock. It hadn’t been a question.

“Of course I do,” Jim said lightly, gesturing up toward the sky where the clouds curled and twisted with an internal storm. “There’s so much to see up there. As diverse as Terra is, the galaxy as a whole? It’s full of-- of infinite mysteries, far-off frontiers. I would love to have an excuse to see more of it.” He laughed a little at himself, at his pipe dreams, but when he looked back to Spock, Spock wasn’t laughing.

“Are you dissatisfied with your role in Starfleet?”

The question seemed so pointed, it almost made Jim uncomfortable. He looked back toward the bay to avoid Spock’s piercing eyes. “Oh, a little, to be honest. It was alright before the Klingons, but now… Everything I know about the universe comes to me secondhand. Through paperwork.” He shot Spock a look of distaste, if only to emphasize his point.

“It is a necessary role to fill,” Spock said gently, “as is your role as prince.” Jim looked to him, sensing more on Spock’s mind but noticing the straight line of his mouth. Jim allowed him a few moments of contemplative silence before, finally, Spock glanced to him, then abruptly back to the view. “I do not know if this is a comfort,” Spock said finally, “but I believe in another life you would have made a proficient captain.”

Jim paused for a moment, steps slowing to a stop, meeting Spock’s eyes. He couldn’t place what he saw in that look, exactly. Respect, maybe, or simply understanding. Whatever it was, it caused a small smile to make its way to his lips, like a crest of sunshine gleaming off the roaring waves. He felt warm, in spite of the chill in the air.

“And what about you, Spock?” Jim asked, fingering the railing if only to do something with his hands. “What would you be doing in another life?”

Spock moved to join Jim by the railing, placing his own hands on it and delicately curling his fingers around the metal. He looked out into the ocean, wind whipping at his flowing shirt, the hard lines of his face looking somehow soft against the gray backdrop of the world.

But just as Spock opened his mouth to speak, a roll of thunder shook the sky, startling them both. Jim sensed the rain moments before he felt it, before a wet plap hit him on the crown of his head. He reached up to pat it, just as another fell upon his shoulder, then his nose, and soon the smattering echoed all around them.

“Oh no,” Jim said, grabbing Spock’s elbow and tugging him from the railing. “We should get going before it starts pouring.”

Spock looked upwards, a few droplets falling onto his cheek, before he followed Jim at a brisk walk. “It rains a great deal here,” he commented drily, and Jim laughed as a crack of lightning split the sky above them.

“You sound unenthused, your highness,” he commented, but they didn’t speak further. As the rain began to pour in earnest around them, they found themselves jogging to make it back to the car. The few other people on the bridge were running too, some with umbrellas or coats flung over their heads. Others just making a mad dash, as they were.

By the time they reached the car and tumbled inside, the storm raged full-force, and Jim sputtered around the water dripping into the crease of his lips. He ran a hand over his face to clear it before looking beside him at a very wet and ruffled Spock.

Jim chuckled. “Sorry,” he said. “That happens sometimes. Flash storms.”

Though he shivered slightly, Spock did not look to be upset. “Indeed. Perhaps next time we may visit the museum instead.”

With a laugh, Jim turned on the car and pulled them out of the lot, speeding them back in the direction of home. There was still plenty of the day left, but they hadn’t brought a change of clothes, and Spock looked freezing.

“Good thing you aren’t marrying an Andorian royal, right?” Jim joked as he drove, cranking up the heat. “Can you imagine living there? With your physiology? You’d freeze to death well before your wedding day.”

“I may still,” Spock said, and Jim laughed heartily. Granted it hadn’t been the fun-filled day of exploration Jim had intended, but it had been more than Spock had done in a long while. And finally he’d gotten out of that damn palace.

Jim thought, then, to tell Spock that he should mention this to Sam. That he should convey a desire to see the California Academy of Sciences or to visit the bridge on a sunnier day.

But something strange and selfish in him stopped him from suggesting it. Something strange and selfish in him wondered if maybe Spock would ask Jim to come with him again next time.

Jim didn’t understand the impulse, but he thought as he drove that maybe it was a kind of backhanded, inconsequential revenge for Sam blowing Spock off all this time.

He decided not to dwell on it. Instead, he sped them home and made sure Spock’s seat heater was on high.

 


 

“Thank you for the outing,” Spock said dutifully as they crossed the threshold to the palace. Jim knew someone was going to get on his case later about their dripping on the entryway rug, but he didn’t quite mind. They’d made a run for it between the garage and the palace and frankly Jim was just happy that they were under a roof again.

“My pleasure,” Jim said sincerely, flexing his cold fingers to try to get some feeling back into them. He noticed Spock doing the same. As chilled as Jim was, he could only imagine his Vulcan counterpart to be freezing. “You should get changed, I doubt you’re comfort--”

“Your royal highnesses,” a familiar voice chimed in from down the hall, and Jim looked away from Spock to see Nyota striding toward them, purposeful, power-walking, something intense in her expression that made Jim immediately nervous.

“Nyota,” he greeted, just as Spock nodded recognition with a mumbled, “Miss Uhura.”

She reached them and ducked into a shallow bow, breath a little labored. “Prince Spock,” she said, turning toward him. Her voice didn’t carry the same insistent edge as her eyes. “Once you have changed, Prince George has requested your presence for dinner.”

Spock seemed to straighten, his eyebrows and the corners of his lips pulling inward. “Indeed?”

“Yes, your highness,” she confirmed. “Details have been sent to your room’s computer terminal. And Prince James,” here she turned to Jim, the title sounding strange and unwelcome on her lips.

Nerves set in as Jim realized that the intensity in her eyes was reserved strictly for him. He thought he’d been doing well with the Vulcans, but this was the look she got on her face whenever he committed some grave cultural faux pas. “Y-- yes?”

“I need you to come with me, please.”

He blinked at her, asking silently what this was all about, but her eyes widened minutely as if suggesting she wasn’t about to discuss it in front of the Vulcan prince.

So Jim turned back to Spock, a little regretfully. “Well, I guess this is where I say good night, he said, giving Spock an encouraging smile. “Enjoy your dinner, and stay warm.”

Dinner with Sam likely came as a shock after this morning, especially dinner at Sam’s request . Jim couldn’t begin to puzzle out what had made his brother change his mind, unless their earlier conversation had finally caught up to him.

“Indeed, “ Spock said, “Thank you again, Prince James.” He pulled the rain-soaked beanie from his head and handed it out.

As Jim took it, he tried not to let his eyes linger too long on the thorough mess of Spock’s wet hair, his bangs spread unevenly along his forehead, his usually flat black locks sticking outward and laying awkwardly over each other.

“No need to thank me, really.” Jim waved his empty hand dismissively. “I had fun. You know, aside from the rai--”

Nyota cleared her throat pointedly and Jim looked back to her, brows raised. “Right,” he said, “Well, good night then.”

“Good night,” Spock replied, making his way past them toward the Vulcans’ wing. He cast a last look in their direction, a question in his expression that didn’t make it to his lips.

The moment he turned his back, Nyota grabbed Jim’s hand and tugged him down the other hallway. “Woah,” he said, caught off-guard, stumbling for a minute as she pulled him along. “What’s so urgent?”

She didn’t speak right away. Instead, she led him up a set of steps and-- he assumed since they were heading in the direction of the royal wing-- toward his room. “I need to talk to you about something,” she said eventually, “but not here.”

He felt confusion tug at him, but allowed her to lead on in silence, thankful when she eventually let go of his hand.

By the time they got to his room, he was burning with curiosity, but still painfully uncomfortable from the clothes that stuck to his skin, the feeling of wet denim weighing down his belt. The door swished shut behind them and he turned to Nyota, arms out.

“Okay, what has gotten into you?”

“I should be asking you the same question,” she said, pulling out his desk chair and half falling into it.

Jim rolled his eyes, turning away from her as he placed the wet beanie on his dresser and began unbuttoning his shirt. “You’re going to have to help me out here, Nyota,” he said. “Unlike our guests, I’m not a telepath.”

He heard a sigh, then the distinct sound of Nyota’s elbow on the desk as she settled her head in her hand. “For someone who likes to keep rumors at a minimum, you’re playing with fire,” she said. He tossed his shirt to the side as he shrugged into a clean tunic, something fit for wandering around the palace but nothing extravagant.

“May I ask how?”

“Spock,” she said, and Jim turned to her at the name, unfastening the fly of his pants. She’d dressed him for enough functions and galas that she didn’t balk as he stripped.

“Spock,” he repeated. “What about him?”

“Do you realize,” she said, leaning forward, “how it looks? For you to be seen out in public with him more often than his own fiance?”

Jim kicked off his jeans and toed out of his wet socks, attempting to digest the accusation. “I honestly hadn’t considered it,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to make him feel welcome. Isn’t that what you told me to do?”

Nyota rubbed her forehead, closing her eyes as if for patience. “I mean, yes, I suppose, but Sam--”

“Sam doesn’t want to spend time with Spock,” Jim interrupted, snagging a pair of trousers from his drawer and stepping into them, tripping as his wet skin stuck to the fabric. “He asked me to take him out today.”

“And you did . That’s the problem. Someone snapped a photo of you two on the bridge just now, and people are already saying you're, oh, sabotaging the betrothal or something. Jim, I know you want to protect Sam. You always have. But you can’t court Spock for your brother.”

Jim raised an eyebrow, almost forgetting to button his fly. He wasn't overly worried about the rumors online. They'd fade eventually. What worried him was what Nyota was suggesting. “I’m not--”

“Lady Rand saw you playing chess together for three hours the other day.”

“So?”
“Lord Sulu said you two were bent rather intimately over a padd--”

“Going over notes from this study he told me abo--”

“And Lady Chapel--”

“Okay,” Jim said, leveling a hand at her. “I understand. But what else would you have me do? Let him sit around the palace bored all day? Sam doesn’t want anything to do with him.”

Nyota straightened in her seat, setting her hands in her lap and giving Jim a very hard look. “But you do.”

Jim, fully dressed now, took a seat on the edge of his bed. Nyota swiveled to look at him.

“I don’t see how that’s a problem,” he said. “He’s going to be my brother-in-law someday. And king , for that matter. Isn’t it a good thing that we get along?”

“Jim, you have to know how this looks,” she said, gentler now. “Even to me, and I know you. Do you--” she paused, taking in a sharp breath. Her next words came out hard. “Do you like Spock?”

“Of course I do, I’ve already said--”

“I mean, do you like Spock.”

By the time that question sank in, Jim felt very tired. “Are we twelve, Nyota? What kind of a question is that?”

“A question you’re not answering,” she said stiffly. “Jim, this is my job. I need to know if this is going to be a situation, alright? The alliance of the two most powerful planets in the quadrant is relying on this marriage, and I have to know if there’s any reason for me to worry. Or plan for some kind of negotiation. If this goes belly up, I’m partly to blame.”

“I know that,” he said.

“And you know that hierarchy is everything to the Vulcans, right? You know they want their son to marry the crown prince. The future king. You know--”

“I know,” he said again, with more emphasis this time. “I’m not going to cause any problems. I want this to work out as much as anyone. Do you honestly think I’m trying to steal Spock away from my own brother?”

She raised her eyebrow at him, judging him, weighing his sincerity.

“Alright.” she said finally, and Jim relaxed a little deeper into the mattress. “I want you to know I did talk to Sam, too. If the only reason you’ve been dating Prince Spock is because your brother’s too scared to do it himself, then you can call it quits. He’s going to try to do this right.”

“He told me the same thing,” Jim said, leaning his elbows on his knees. “Do you think he will?”

She shrugged. “He has to, doesn’t he? This isn’t the first unpleasant thing he’s expected to do for the crown, and it won’t be the last.”

“And it’s not even that unpleasant. Marrying Spock aside, spending time with him should be easy,” Jim added, frustrated.

Nyota gave him an almost pitying look. “It’s talk like that that makes me worry,” she said, and Jim couldn’t fathom what she meant.

Chapter Text

The photo had been taken from a good distance, awkwardly zoomed-in to best depict the two figures that stood at its center. It was oriented vertically, so the top of the frame reached upward to capture some of those beautiful billows of gray San Francisco sky, while the bottom of the frame cut the subjects at the ankle. But, despite the horizontal confines of the picture, the two figures didn’t have any trouble fitting. They stood close to each other, one with his hand on the bridge railing, the other with his own tucked behind his back. Their faces were just visible, the expressions a little blurry, but certainly not indecipherable.

A look of fondness was evident in the soft set of Spock’s lips, in his eyes which the photographer had caught half-lidded. And Jim's own smile was gentle, too tender to be considered friendly, too relaxed to be considered dutiful.

And it was only the sixth time Jim found himself staring at that picture-- laying on his bed one night that sleep eluded him, his heart beating so insistently loud it became distracting-- that he began to realize why Nyota may have been concerned.

The article that accompanied the photo, rolled out under a headline that read “A royal affair,” was utter nonsense, accusing him of a great deal more than even Nyota had. But the photo was revealing, and Jim found that-- for all he couldn't stop looking at it-- he didn't like the way it made him feel at all.

 


 

 

For almost a week, Jim nursed a steady sort of anger with his best friend, borne in part from embarrassment and in part from righteous self-assuredness. The frosty silence permeated their interactions, whether he was greeting her with forced formality in front of guests or responding to her messages with glacial reluctance. They talked a little bit, and Nyota apologized for suggesting he had untoward intentions, but she maintained that she had a right to be worried, and that steadfast adherence to her accusation made Jim’s anger last a little longer than it should have.

He’d been asked to do the very things he’d gotten in trouble with her for doing, after all. Nyota had requested that the whole family pitch in, extend a welcoming hand, offer Spock and his family whatever they might need.

And so her issue with Jim doing so seemed to stem entirely from the fact that he enjoyed doing it, and that he’d been seen enjoying doing it.

But with the revelation that perhaps his feelings for Spock had begun to approach the line between friendly and, well, whatever followed, he also had a revelation about Nyota.

Everything she said had come from a place of concern. Concern about the alliance, of course, since that was her job and her livelihood and the stability of the galaxy, but also concern for Jim. Her friend. She didn’t want to see him get his heart broken.

So he forgave her, and apologized, and promised her that he was fine with the arrangement as it stood, as it had stood since the beginning of this whole thing. He knew full-well that Spock and Sam were intended, and in spite of how much it hurt to think of the two of them in a loveless marriage, he supported their decisions, and supported the union.

Besides, once Sam and Spock began spending time together in earnest, Jim was sure the marriage wouldn’t be nearly as loveless as he’d worried.

Jim caught sight of them walking the grounds one sunny day, close enough to call intimate, wrapped up in their own little world. Sam seemed to be smiling, though from Jim’s view by the window he couldn’t tell how sincere it was. Spock strode with his hands behind his back, as he usually did, looking calm.

Another day, during a gala set up in honor of some visiting dignitaries from Terra’s various colonies, he saw them couched on one of the benches lining the hall. People in colorful gowns and suits spun and swirled past, obscuring Jim’s vision here and there like flickers of flitting birds, but whenever the crowd parted he saw Sam and Spock’s heads bowed together, each cradling drinks they weren’t drinking, one or the other speaking quietly, words only meant for the other.

When they did part each other’s company, which did still happen with Sam’s princely duties and continued (if less frequent) trouble with fatigue, Jim did his best to follow Nyota’s instructions. To pull back.

Not to say he stopped spending time with Spock entirely. Jim could never say no to Spock when he offered a game of chess or found him reading and asked after recent reports from the frontier. They cultivated their own, steady friendship, but per Nyota’s request Jim did try to ensure they did so out of the public eye.

And, really, little changed in the day-to-day life of the palace except for the fact that their families were happier. Sarek, though he seemed detached and tired recently, often looked on his son and his son's fiancee with pride and approval. Jim overheard more than one conversation between his parents about how well things were going, and how the two seemed to be getting along swimmingly. But most importantly, Spock seemed happier, and Jim…

Jim was happy for them too. He was entirely, blissfully happy for them. And he told himself as much enough times to make it feel true.

 


 

Jim’s padd beeped, then buzzed, then beeped again, but he’d left it all the way on his bedside table and couldn’t be bothered to get up and check his messages.

There were reports to look through, after all. Captain Pike of the Enterprise , one of the ships under Jim’s command, had just sent along information from their most recent assignment, a mining operation on Janus VI. His reports about silicone-based lifeforms and incredible outputs of pergium had Jim’s full attention.

Until the padd beeped again. And once more, an insistent series of messages that made him lean back in his desk chair and groan. “Alright,” he said aloud to the empty room, shutting off the screen of his console. “Alright already, hold on.” He stood, cracked his back, buttoned the slacks he’d let out while he’d been slumped at his desk, and made his way to the bed.

“Now who in the hell--”

The messages were from Nyota.

Do you know where Sam is? read the first, a perfectly reasonable question, but one Jim couldn't answer. He hadn’t seen his brother all day, and it was well into evening now. He scrolled down to the more recent messages.

He’s not answering his communicator and I need to find him.

Jim?

It’s urgent.

Have the both of you disappeared?

Jim??

Confused, he began typing out a reply, to offer to help look, but another message came through first.

Queen Amanda is asking for you now.

He stared at it for a moment, then quickly replied. For me? I thought you were looking for Sam.

As he began casting about for his shoes, just in case, the padd beeped again, and continued, more messages coming through as he read.

Well, we can’t find him.

And it’s urgent.

Can you come?

We’re in Spock’s rooms.

It took a moment for that message, and its meaning, to sink into him. He became suddenly aware of the silence around him now that the incessant beep of Nyota’s messages had stopped, the feeling of his bare feet on the plush rug by his bed, the weight of the padd in his hands and the slowly encroaching terror that, finally and all at once, sent ice pulsing through his veins.

Without a second thought, Jim tossed the padd onto the bed, not bothering to tuck in his shirt or straighten his hair or grab his shoes or do anything but stride immediately out the door. His pace picked up as he edged into the wider halls, setting into a brisk jog, heart hammering too loud for the minor exertion.

Spock’s rooms. What could they possibly be doing in Spock’s rooms? And if Queen Amanda had requested him, that meant Spock hadn’t-- or couldn’t.

His jog turned into a run as the myriad possibilities flitted through his mind. Spock could be injured, or sick. He could be angry about something the Terrans had done, angry with Sam or with Jim. Maybe he had decided to call off the betrothal, Jim thought with a flash of clarity at the possibility. But that would be a downright relief, and not for any personal investment Jim had in it. It just seemed so innocuous in comparison to whatever else could have happened. In spite of himself, he found himself hoping that was the big emergency.

Speeding past a few indignant servants, he heard some calls to slow down lest he crash into something valuable, but he didn’t heed them for a moment. Instead, the thought of Spock continued to float intrusive and unwelcome into his mind.

Spock needed him.

Someone , his mind corrected. Spock needed someone. Spock needed Sam . But he would have Jim.

When Jim approached the Vulcan wing, a little out of breath, he caught sight of Nyota standing nervously in the hall. She noticed him about the same moment and strode quickly over.

“Jim!” she said, about as close to panicked as he'd ever seen her. “Sam?”

“No idea,” he said, drawing up to her and laying a hand on her arm. “What's wrong? Is Spock--”

“He’s fine,” she said, “but King Sarek...” She put a hand to her forehead, taking in a breath. “Let’s just get in there.”

“Wait, wait, what’s wrong with Sarek? I thought Spock was hurt or sick or missing or--”
“Spock’s fine,” she emphasized. Taking Jim’s hand, she tugged him forward. “But he needs… someone needs to talk to him, okay? Sam’s not answering, but you two are friends, right?”

“I thought you didn’t want me talking to Spock much anymore,” Jim said lowly, though he followed her lead onward down the hall.

“Well, let’s call these extenuating circumstances.”

His nerves had reached a crescendo by now. If he understood correctly, Sarek was the one he should be worrying about, but what did Spock have to do with it?

They moved down the hall a little way before Nyota paused to slam her palm against the call for Spock’s door. When it slid open, it revealed a harried-looking Queen Amanda, her hand resting on the door controls as though holding herself up on the wall. She was pale as Jim had ever seen her, hair flying out of her delicate curls, wearing a sleeping robe with feathers at the fringes. She stood there without makeup or adornment, and the wrinkles at her eyes and mouth-- carved from a lifetime of smiling and laughing-- were visibly strained.

“Thank you for coming, Prince James,” she said softly, stepping aside. “Please talk some sense into my son.”

As Jim thought to protest the need for anyone to talk sense into Spock , Nyota pulled Jim into the room and finally released his hand, giving him a very pointed look to keep him silent.

“His royal highness, Prince James,” she said to the room at large, though it was without heart. Jim didn’t mind so much; he hated the formalities of being announced, and he certainly didn’t need to be announced to these people. He knew them plenty well.

In addition to Amanda, the room hosted only two others. Though Jim recognized Doctor McCoy, standing solemnly with an arm over his chest and a finger against his lips near the center of the room, Jim’s eyes were drawn to Spock first and foremost. The prince sat stiff in a chair on the opposite side of the room, his face as tight and expressionless as Jim had ever seen it, his hands like claws on the arms of the chair.

He didn’t know why his first impulse was to go to Spock, to ask him what was going on when clearly it had been Amanda’s desire that Jim come, but Spock seemed to be decidedly not looking at him.

Doctor McCoy dipped into a quick bow. “Your highness,” he said gruffly, and Jim thought with some concern that it must be serious if McCoy were reverting to formalities. He’d been their family physician for years, and after Jim’s tenth-or-so broken bone they’d established a much more casual rapport with each other.

But, of course, royalty was in attendance.

“Okay,” Jim said, doing away with greetings as the high of fear hadn’t yet left him, even with the assurance that Spock at least was alright. He edged a little farther into the room and held out his arms, turning as he took in the stoic faces around him, “Can someone please tell me what’s going on?”

Spock stood abruptly, as though sensing his opportunity now that everyone’s attention was distracted. He gave the room a glance, not meeting Jim’s eyes, then strode past him without explanation. “Spock,” Amanda entreated, but Spock moved purposely out the door as if he hadn’t even heard her. It slid shut behind him, leaving an echo that suggested if he’d been able (or not so staunchly Vulcan as he was), he would have slammed it.

Nyota and McCoy exchanged a look, and Jim flopped his hands at his sides. “What happened ?” he asked, looking to each of them for answers, and finally settling on Amanda. She was the one who had asked for him, after all. And maybe anchoring himself to her would stop him from running after Spock.

She moved toward him, placing a hand on the crook of his elbow as she approached. The look of fear that weighed down her brow and tightened her jaw didn’t become her, and it made Jim more nervous, if possible.

“What happened?” he asked again, gentler this time as he placed his hand over hers.

McCoy stepped forward, taking both of their attentions. “King Sarek is ill,” he said. “A heart attack, your highness.”

“Multiple heart attacks,” Amanda corrected weakly.

“Pardon me, your majesty, but even one is too many,” he said, then turned to Jim fully. “Looks like what he’s gonna need is surgery, which means a lot of blood, but thanks to his damned Vulcan anatomy--”

Nyota cleared her throat loudly from her place by the door, widening her eyes and nodding pointedly in Amanda’s direction, though the queen didn’t seem offended.

“Should I be hearing this?” Jim asked before McCoy could continue. “What about doctor-patient confidentiality?”

“You’re family,” Amanda said softly.

Jim didn’t know how to feel about that. He supposed, someday, he would be, but that simple statement still carried so much more weight than Jim felt he was allowed.

“As I was sayin ’,” McCoy continued, “thanks to the king’s particular blood type, there aren’t a whole lot of potential donors.”

Amanda nodded, her fingers tightening in Jim’s sleeve. “The only Vulcan on Terra with my husband’s blood type is our son. Spock has insisted on going through with the procedure. In spite of its risks.”

“He says it’s ‘logical,’” McCoy said with no little derision, “Vulcans and their damned--”

“Leonard!” Nyota snapped. “Could you please .”

McCoy ducked his head, “Apologies, your majesty,” he said to the queen, but Amanda waved him away.

“It’s quite alright, Doctor,” she said. “To be honest, I’m sick of logic. Sarek says it’s logical to spare Spock’s life, Spock says it’s logical to sacrifice it. It’s enough to drive anyone mad.”

Something in Jim’s heart clenched uncomfortably, hung up on Amanda’s words. “Wait, wait, what do you mean ‘sacrifice?’ This wouldn’t… it wouldn’t kill Spock, would it?”

The fear returned with a vengeance, something that pounded against his temples, something that froze his fingers where they rested over Amanda’s. His heart seemed to be trying to break itself against his ribcage.

“I’m not sure, to be honest,” McCoy said. “We might be able to mitigate the blood loss with this experimental medication from Rigel, but the chance of weakening Spock is high. And it could weaken him a hell of a lot. ”

Amanda gave Jim a look, pleading, and he found it difficult to look into her eyes. Instead, he settled his gaze on the floor. He began to understand why she had called him.

“You want me to try to talk him out of it?” he asked, though it hardly came out as a question.

Amanda moved forward slightly, pulling his gaze entirely to her as her free hand came to Jim’s cheek. Their eyes met, and he felt he could drown in the well of tears he saw clouding hers. “He respects you,” she said. “He may even listen to you. I thought perhaps Sam-- since they have been growing closer, but, James, he needs a voice of reason.”

“I’m hardly that, your majesty,” he whispered, weak and embarrassingly tremulous.

“A voice of emotion, then,” she corrected herself, dropping her hand with a humorless smile, but it faded with her next words. “And you are his friend.”

Of course Jim was his friend, but Sam was his fiance . Sam should have been here. Jim doubted Spock would listen to him, and moreover, if he should . Jim didn’t know what to do.

“Isn’t it Spock’s decision to make?” he asked after a moment, looking around the room. “I don’t-- I don’t much care for the idea of the risks, but shouldn’t he--”

“James,” Amanda interrupted softly. She paused before she next spoke, eyes falling as something in her seemed to break. “I can’t lose them both.”

It echoed in his mind, that quiet admission, that genuine fear. And he understood suddenly, with the same breed of terror that seemed to shake Amanda’s shoulders, that he couldn’t lose Spock . The very idea of it crashed against him like a tidal wave, sent him reeling and turned his stomach and made his breath catch in his lungs as if the air itself was barbed.

It was one thing to lose Spock in the sense he knew he someday would, to push him into Sam’s arms, but there would still be glimpses of Spock to be had, dinner table conversations, an occasional game of chess. If all that suddenly disappeared…

But he couldn’t say any of that to Amanda, nor could he say it to Spock. Nor, he knew, could he ask Spock to change his mind. All he could do was be there.

“I’ll… I’ll talk to him,” he finally managed to say, and Amanda seemed to let out a breath of relief.

“Thank you, James,” she said.

 


 

Maybe it was instinct that told him where to find Spock, or some kind of strange, blind hope, but he saw Spock’s figure, gold-hued in the palace’s light, in the first place he looked-- the bench by the sunflowers in the garden.

Jim walked up to him, quietly on his still-bare feet, as though approaching an animal that might flee at any moment. But Spock did not flee. Instead, he looked to Jim, seemingly unsurprised.

“My mother sent you,” he said without inflection, and Jim’s resolve wavered slightly, though he continued forward. Before he spoke, he settled on the opposite end of the bench, leaning his elbows on his knees. He didn’t look at Spock, worried any scrutiny might put him on the defensive, but he kept Spock’s profile in his periphery.

“She did,” he said, “but I wouldn’t have agreed to come if I didn’t think you needed to talk.”

“I do not know what there is to talk about,” Spock said, voice cold and clipped. “If my blood can save the king, it is my duty as a citizen of Vulcan to provide it. I see no room for debate, and I do not wish to be lectured or cajoled--”

“Spock,” Jim intoned with as much care as he could, softening the single syllable of Spock’s name as he looked toward him. Spock’s head turned slightly, though he seemed reluctant to meet Jim’s eyes. “I’m not here to convince you of anything, I promise. I don’t know enough about your father’s medical condition, or yours, to say anything about it. I just-- if you want to talk this out…” he left the offer hanging, waiting for acceptance or rejection. Part of him wanted desperately to tell Spock not to do this, to beg Spock not to do this, to lecture and cajole as Spock expected. But it was the selfish part of him, so Jim kept it in check. It seldom took this much effort to do so.

Spock’s shoulders seemed to slacken and he turned his gaze to the sunflowers, a soft breath of resignation escaping him. They were quiet for a long time, a sigh of breeze slipping past. Jim’s feet were cold against the stone path, goosebumps rising along his arms. But he didn’t push, didn’t rush. Spock was a patient person, quiet, willing to wait until he had the proper words to express what he wanted to express. Jim admired that about him, so he tried to be patient, too.

“My mother worries,” Spock said finally, almost startling Jim. “She believes that we could both die, though the probability is extremely low.”

Jim remained silent, waiting. Spock stared off into the darkness, as though forgetting Jim was there, but Jim didn’t want to remind him. Sitting here surrounded by the floral-bright scent of the gardens, watching Spock in a moment that seemed unguarded, Jim’s fear felt soothed for the first time since he’d gotten Nyota’s last message.

“I am fully aware,” Spock said eventually, “that my parents do not believe I am capable of making my own decisions. Of course, they do not have malicious intentions, but they have decided every course of my life. Trained me for my title, rather than allowing me to study science as I wished, decided that I will marry your brother, if you will forgive me for saying so. And now…” he paused, and Jim realized he had been holding his own breath. He only released it when Spock continued. “In many ways, my body, what I choose to do with it, is the last thing I have to myself. This decision should only be mine. I simply wish they would allow me to make it.”

Sincerity like this was rare in Vulcans, even rare in Spock in Jim’s experience. He found he didn’t quite know what to do with it. His own life had been relatively free. Granted there were certain things forbidden from him, certain freedoms he would never be allowed, but he would never say anyone had decided anything for him, other than the decision to keep him out of space. He could only relate to Spock’s frustration through the same frustrations he had heard coming from Sam, and somehow it saddened him that he didn’t have the right comfort to offer Spock right now. This should have been Sam’s place. Sam would have known what to say. Sam would have been able to relate.

All Jim had to offer was his sympathy, and he suspected Spock didn’t want it.

“You said the probability of this-- this killing you is low?” he asked, unsure what else to say.

“Indeed,” Spock said, “though there are risks, I highly doubt I will succumb to them. I am young and healthy, far healthier than my father.”

Jim felt the confidence in that statement, and it provided a little comfort for the fear that gripped his own gut at the thought of Spock on the operating table. One thing he knew for certain, he trusted Spock. Spock’s intelligence, his compassion-- and yes, his confidence.

“Then you should do it,” Jim said quietly, hating himself for it. Amanda would kill him, but he wouldn’t feel right if he rallied against Spock’s decision. “If it feels right to you, if it’s what you want, then you should do it. You’re right. Maybe there are some--” the thought of the marriage floated painfully back into Jim’s mind-- “some decisions that they’ll never allow you to make for yourself, but…”

Spock looked sideways at him, his eyes almost scrutinizing. “I do not believe my mother expected your encouragement. If she had, I doubt she would have called you.”

Jim scooted a little closer to Spock on the bench, drawing his attention more fully, glad to have his eyes on him when he noticed them softening. “I don’t care,” he said, and in a moment of forgetfulness, or perhaps weakness, he laid a hand on Spock’s knee. Spock’s eyes fell to the contact immediately, widening slightly, but Jim didn’t draw away. Instead, he powered through, pulling Spock’s gaze back to his own. “In fact,” he said, “I’m surprised she would think your friend would want to convince you not to do something you had decided to do.”

Jim would support him in this. In any decision he was able to make. He may not be able to offer the comfort of commonality the way Sam could, but he could at least offer this.

“Thank you, Jim,” Spock said. His voice was quiet, almost strained, but Jim found he couldn’t puzzle through the ghost of emotion in the lines of Spock’s face. They stared at each other for a moment, and Jim wanted to offer something more, something to show that he was there for him, that he wanted to be there for him, that he wanted to be there for him in ways he knew Sam could not. Or would not. In ways only Sam could.

But as the thought entered his mind, he pushed it aside. He had given Spock what little he could. Now, the important thing was getting Spock back upstairs, and getting his father healthy.

“We should return,” Spock said after a moment, giving voice to Jim’s thoughts. “My father’s condition will not improve with time.”

Jim nodded. It took effort to take his hand from Spock’s knee, from the warmth he felt radiating through the thin fabric between them, from the comfort of Spock’s presence, Spock’s life.

Eventually, he managed, flexing his fingers, and stood, waiting for Spock to do the same. “Of course. If you need anything, I’ll be right there.”

The look Spock gave him contained the gratitude Jim had become familiar with, but nothing else that he could decipher.

They walked back to the Vulcan wing in silence.

 


 

A hand landed on Jim’s shoulder and he jolted awake, his own own hands reflexively flying up to smack at the offender, eyes snapping open to the sight of his brother's face, which hovered worried above him. “I came as soon as I heard,” Sam said in a rush. “What’s happening now?”

Jim’s attention widened as wakefulness returned, encompassing the narrow, silver hall and its polished silver floors and the sterile scent of the medical wing that always made him uncomfortable. The hall was empty, the door to the surgery room beside Jim’s chair was still closed, and Jim was stiff in every limb and every joint. He must have dozed off sometime after hour two or three or four.

And Sam had only now arrived. Jim did his best not to glare up at him, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes instead. “‘What’s happening ?’” he echoed. “Maybe if you hadn’t disappeared again, you might have a better idea of it. Where have you been?”

Jim couldn’t help shooting the question at him with a barbed look, his fear catching up to him and morphing even as he felt it into frustration. Frustration was concrete, relatable, digestible, much easier to deal with and, in this moment, just as genuine.

Sam looked down, guilt carved into the lines at the corners of his mouth. “Sleeping,” he said, a blatant lie, and Jim tossed his hands in the air, getting to his feet.

“If you aren't going to tell me where you were,” Jim said, trying and failing to contain the bare emotion in his voice, “at least don't lie to me. Spock needed you. He needed you and once again all he had was me. Do you care about him at all ?” He wheeled on his brother, who looked lost and a little confused.

“Of course I do,” Sam said, though it sounded tired, without conviction. “Maybe not in the way our parents want, but he’s a good friend.”

“Then you at least have to be that to him,” Jim pleaded, trying to keep his voice low. They were alone, as Winona had taken Amanda away hours ago to try to sleep, but he didn’t doubt there could be servants or nurses flitting around in adjacent hallways. “How do you expect to be his husband if you can’t even be his friend?”

Sam tugged at his moustache, his body language reading weak and worried. “I don’t know,” he finally said.

“Then call it off,” Jim said. He hadn’t meant to, let alone to make it sound like a demand, but now that it was out he felt as though it was the only thing he could have said that would make sense. He committed to it, stepping forward. “Back out, whatever political damage it does. I don’t care about the damned alliance. Spock deserves better than this.”

Sam’s expression changed then, curious and probing, and Jim didn’t like the way it felt turned on him. “You know I can’t do that, Jim. What’s gotten into you?”

With a frustrated shrug, Jim felt his jaw clench. “I don’t-- You don’t have to love him, Sam. You just have to care for him. How hard is that?”

“It’s not,” Sam said, and his tone carried that same questioning confusion. “But how can you even suggest backing out when--”

“I don’t know.” Jim interrupted, “but you said you were going to try . You promised you were going to try. And now when he needs you the most…” He trailed off, feeling his shoulders fall as he shook his head and looked away. He was tired of this. Wasn’t Sam?

“I have been trying, Jim,” Sam said. “You’ve seen me, right? I’ve been making an effort. We spend time together every day. I’ve stopped leaving him alone at functions. I don’t know what more you want--”

“It’s not about what I want,” Jim nearly snapped, but he reined himself in, sucking in a breath through his nose. When next he spoke, he forced intentional calm into his tone. “It’s about what’s right. You have a duty here. Not just to Terra, but to Spock . He’s not just a-- a political tool, even if our parents see him that way. He’s a person, Sam. And a good person.” Sam responded with silence, knit brows, arms hanging uselessly at his sides, and Jim felt his anger fading, replaced instead with a quiet sense of defeat. “Spock deserves…”

A beat passed between them. Jim didn't know how to finish that sentence. Spock deserved more than an arranged marriage, more than the requirements of his station. But if he had to go through with this, then he at least deserved care, affection, attention. A partner.

Jim turned away, putting his head in his hand and closing his eyes against the bright shine of the polished hallway. After a moment, Sam put a hand on Jim’s shoulder, turning him gently around, and Jim managed to meet his eyes.

“Do you--” Sam paused, glancing away for a moment, trying to find the words. “Jim, do you have a stake in this?”

It took a moment for Jim to understand the question, to sift it through the filters of propriety and Sam’s general opaqueness. There wasn’t an accusation there, but there was an insinuation, the same insinuation Nyota had leveled on him weeks ago.

“Of course I have a stake in this,” he said, a spike of panic gripping him, though he didn’t know where it came from. “We all want the alliance to--”

“I mean ,” Sam interrupted pointedly, “do you have a stake in Spock ?”

Jim knew what Sam meant; he just wished he didn’t have to confront it. Not here. Not now. “He’s my friend,” Jim said, the only answer he could provide.

Sam stared at him for a moment as if searching for any subtext in Jim’s answer. But eventually he nodded, dropping his hand.

“Right,” he said. “And-- and you’re right. I made a promise. I can’t call it off, so I should…” he stopped, wetting his lips, running a hand through his hair. He looked pained. “I’ll stay here, wait for them to get out of surgery. I know I haven’t been the best-- the best fiance, but all that’s over.”

“You’ve said that before,” Jim said, but there wasn’t any fire in it.  Just defeat.

“But this time… I’m going to care for him Jim, I promise. I’ll learn to--” Sam shook his head. He couldn’t even say the word love.

And that wasn’t what Jim wanted to hear. He had to admit as much to himself. He wanted Sam to call it off, to upset the most powerful alliance in the quadrant, to stick a middle finger up to both royal families. He didn’t know what that would accomplish, or why it manifested as a single, impossible desire in his mind. All he knew was that Spock did deserve better than this, and he wasn’t sure Sam could give that to him.

Quietly, they regarded each other, time stretching until it felt like minutes, and finally Sam glanced toward the single chair by the door. “If you want to go to bed…”

Jim didn’t want to go to bed. He didn’t want to leave. He had promised Spock that he would be there, that he would be right there when they came through surgery on the other side.

But Sam was here now, and if Sam was here, Spock didn’t need Jim.

It took a lot for Jim to admit in that moment that he needed Spock.

“I’ll stay,” he decided, moving to the opposite side of the chair and leaning against the wall. At least he knew he wouldn’t fall asleep if he was standing. “I said I would.”

And Jim didn’t acknowledge that look in his brother’s eyes as Sam took a seat. He didn’t honor his curiosity with an answer. Even he didn’t know what this meant, what being here and wanting to be here meant, what suggesting breaking the betrothal meant. He just knew that he had to know the second Spock came out of that room. For now, nothing else really mattered.

 


 

Jim visited Spock four times during the three days he was held for observation in the medical wing. Each time, Sam was already there, sitting in a straight-backed chair at Spock's side like the dutiful fiance he'd promised to be. Jim would always hesitate in the doorway, offer a small wave, and only make his way inside when Spock would turn to him with that quiet smile in his eyes. Sam would greet him courteously, and Jim would approach Spock’s bedside, offering him a smile and a gentle joke.

Spock seemed to appreciate the visits, attempting to engage Jim in conversation by asking after “Miss Uhura” or his parents, but Jim was ever-conscious of Sam sitting right there, nose in his padd but obviously listening, and he never lingered long. The second day, he brought a chess set, just in case Sam had left Spock alone for a time. But when he arrived to find his brother there, he left it for them to play. It was easy enough to pretend that had been his intention the whole time.

McCoy, every time Jim passed him in the hallway, would shoot Jim these pitying looks that he couldn't understand or process, and he found he didn’t want to.

He didn’t really want to do much of anything.

The procedure had gone well. That experimental drug had ensured Spock retained enough blood for the transfusion, and both he and King Sarek were on their way to recovery. Amanda had thanked Jim for letting Spock make the choice, apologized for her emotionalism, and for getting him involved, and Jim had just smiled at her, told her not to worry. There wasn’t anything to worry about anymore. Spock was fine. Sam was with him. And soon everyone was back on their feet.

Sam seemed to throw himself back into the courtship with gusto, taking Spock on dates every few days once Spock's strength returned, lunching with him, sitting beside him at every function and talking with him as though it were the only thing in the world he wanted to do. He guided Spock toward buffet tables with a hand on the small of Spock’s back, whispered to him with lips near-touching the point of Spock’s ear, stood close enough to brush their shoulders whenever they stood in a group of people.

It still felt insincere, Jim noticed, though he knew his brother so well that he hoped he was the only one who noticed. Sam always had a faraway, sad look in his eyes that didn’t change no matter how comfortable he seemed to become with Spock.

But Spock accepted Sam’s small attentions. He listened intently to every word Sam said, nodded along, and sometimes if Jim found himself looking long enough he could catch Spock wearing that expression. Fondness barely perceptible at the corners of his eyes and his lips. Jim recognized that ghost of a smile from the tabloid photo, the one he had memorized pixel-by-pixel, and he tried not to allow himself his unfounded desire that he be the sole recipient of something so rare.

In the face of what needed to be, what had been intended, what his own duties were as a prince and Sam’s brother, he should have been able to stomach the pain, but it didn’t get easier day-to-day. It only seemed to worsen, the hollow feeling in his gut when he saw them together, the almost wistful longing that seemed to tie knots in his chest when he found himself alone with Spock, the chill of fear that gripped him when he let himself think, even for a moment, about what it all meant.

These were all warning signs on what had proven to be a dangerous road, and Jim knew he should have heeded them a long time before, but he’d been speeding toward one single destination all this time. He couldn’t stop himself now if he tried.

And God, he tried.

 


 

Something clinked across the table, the deliberate sound of silverware against glass, and it drew Jim’s attention from the conversation he’d been holding with his mother. Directly before him sat Spock, Sam to Spock’s left, and it took a moment for Jim to realize that the sound had come from one of them.

Then, Sam tapped his glass again with the edge of his knife, more insistent, clearing his throat as he stood.

Voices hushed as people truncated their conversations, turning to the Terran crown prince with barely contained surprise. Sam had never made a toast in his life, had never purposely drawn attention to himself, and, in fact, typically balked when it turned to him. But now he stood tall and commanding, and it was only the slight tremble in his hand as he set down the knife that hinted to his nerves.

Beside Sam, Spock stared straight ahead, eyes fixed on a spot on the wall above Jim’s head. Jim tried to catch his eyes, but Spock didn’t seem to register the attempt at all.

Spock’s whole demeanor recalled Jim of those elaborate statues in the main halls, draped in finery but lacking the luxury of life, glassy-eyed and cold. The light from the chandelier glinted off the curve of Spock’s hair and the brooch that fastened his robe to his chest, a glimmer that wavered every time he breathed, even and controlled. He looked so little like his usual self.

Jim swallowed.

“Thank you,” Sam spoke up finally, “lords, ladies and nobles, for your attention. I would like, first and foremost, to raise a toast to our honored guests, the royal family of Vulcan.” His voice seemed to waver slightly, but Jim was sure he was the only one who heard it. Sam raised his glass confidently to the head of the table where the kings and queens sat. Amanda smiled, Sarek nodded his recognition, and they held their own glasses aloft while the rest of the table followed suit.

“To allies, to friends, and to good health,” he said, and the echo of his words rang out as everyone repeated them. It was surprisingly savvy of Sam to comment on King Sarek’s health without outwardly stating the intention, knowing the king was private about his personal affairs. It made Jim wonder if Sam had run this toast by Nyota beforehand to make sure it was alright. Jim glanced at her as everyone at the table took a sip of their drinks, hoping to find some hint,  but it wasn’t clear if she knew what was coming or not. In either case, it was obvious Sam wasn’t finished, and Jim turned back to him. Somehow, he thought he knew what was coming.

Sam took a breath as Jim held his own.

“As many of you know,” Sam continued, “The Vulcan delegation plans to return to their planet in two weeks. This visit has given us much to consider. I am grateful for the discussions we have had, the friends we have made, the alliances we have reinvigorated.” He paused, fingers sliding along his glass. His resolve seemed to falter as he glanced into the dark liquid, but he regained himself well enough. “Along-- along those lines, I have an announcement to make. Or, rather,” his eyes shifted to the Vulcan sitting beside him, and it was only now that Spock turned his attention to Sam. “We have an announcement to make.”

Sam settled his hand on Spock’s shoulder, his fingertips puckering the fabric, a flow of dark blue shadows cast at the folds that drew Jim’s eye because somehow he couldn’t seem to focus on anything else. Somehow that simple touch had managed to blot out the rest of the room. He felt his pulse racing, his breath finally returning to him, but far too fast, his eyes fixed unblinking on his brother’s hand-- his friend’s shoulder.

Spock rose as well, glass in hand, dislodging Sam’s grip, though it didn’t look to be intentional. “We will be wed in one week,” Spock said calmly to the table at large, his language and demeanor far less flowery than Sam’s had been. “In order to equalize the balance of power between our two planets and commit to an alliance that has served, and will continue to serve, us all.”

A roar of applause rose up around him like an orchestra reaching crescendo. Jim vaguely registered that his mother had grabbed his shoulder in excitement and now shook him gleefully, but his stunned-silent focus settled on Spock for too long.

It didn’t surprise him, not really. This had been the point of the Vulcans’ visit. This had been the intended outcome, the goal. Inevitable. He’d always known, even when he had told Sam to back out, that this would end in a wedding.

What surprised him wasn’t the news. No, the shock that froze him in his seat came from the way his heart sank into his stomach, the way he gripped at the tablecloth and clenched his jaw and felt static numbing his fingertips and deafening his ears. It came from the way Spock raked his eyes over the table and finally, finally, finally turned his gaze on Jim, and the way Jim thought he could see something unsaid in there-- but it was only because he wanted there to be something unsaid. He wanted there to be an unvoiced desire. He wanted Spock to want him instead. But Spock wanted what was logical, and even if he didn’t he wouldn’t want Jim.

Jim managed to clap eventually, to join in the chorus of congratulations, but he was grateful the happy couple seemed to be too distracted to notice his heart wasn’t in it. When conversation started back up and the table buzzed with renewed energy, Jim managed to mumble an excuse to his parents and slip out the banquet room into the hallway. He couldn’t be gone long, had to stay for the inevitable post-dinner celebration, but he needed a minute to catch his breath, to calm himself down.

So he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, trying to control the heartbeat that hadn’t stopped pounding since the moment Sam stood at that table. He tried to breathe through constricted lungs, to force his fingers to unclench, but his body wasn’t under his control anymore, nor were his thoughts. Nor was his heart.

Jim only opened his eyes when he heard the ornate, old-fashioned door to the banquet room crack open beside him, and he straightened himself immediately-- royal decorum still ingrained into him no matter how awful he felt. No one could see him this weak.

But it was just Nyota, her dark eyes soft with concern, her steps delicate on the running rug as she made her way toward him.

“You okay?” she asked as she approached, glancing around as if to be sure no one was hanging about. Thankfully, they were alone.

He resumed his position against the wall, pulled his eyes away from her, opened his mouth to speak and found that words just wouldn’t come.

She placed a hand on his arm and ducked her head to catch his eyes. When finally he looked to her, he felt something choking off his throat, sealing his breath inside as though his lungs knew that letting out anything would mean letting out everything.

But Nyota had known a good while longer than Jim had, and she deserved the truth.

So he gave it to her, a deep breath heaving his chest as he rested his forehead against his palm. “I’m in love with him, Nyota,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. He didn’t think he had the strength in him for anything more than that.

Her lips pursed, pity and understanding where Jim had almost hoped she would wear an expression of surprise.

“Oh, Jim,” she said quietly.

And that was all. They stayed there longer than they probably should have, her hand a steady comfort against his arm. In the room on the other side of the door, a gentle wave of voices rippled, and Jim knew without hearing a single word that the topic on everyone’s lips would be the happy couple, the solid alliance. The royal wedding.

Though Jim had often envied Sam his station, he’d never in his life wanted so desperately to be the one standing where Sam now stood. Beside Spock. The man he would marry.

And Jim had one week to figure out what to do.

Chapter Text

Seventeen years ago

 

It was hard to be sneaky, Jim thought, with four sets of footsteps jogging down the hall, each of them clad in their hard-soled formal shoes. But all the servants were busy in the main hall right now-- the one the four princes had just fled. Jim giggled and darted past the group, heading over to one of the rooms that branched off the massive hallway and standing up on his tiptoes to reach its door control.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked, jogging up to Jim while Prince Spock and Prince Sybok slowed to a halt behind them.

“Finding us a place to hide,” Jim said, keying in a code. The door swished open, and Sam rolled his eyes.

“How do you even know the code for that door? These are the guest halls.”

“While I have no objection to leaving the gala,” Prince Spock spoke up from behind them, “I do not wish to violate anyone’s privacy.”

It was Jim’s turn to roll his eyes. He didn’t know all the words the Vulcans liked to use (‘violate’ being one of them), but he was pretty good at picking up meaning, for a nine-year-old, at least.

“It’s empty,” he moaned, grabbing his brother by the sleeve and tugging him into the room. “I’m not gonna get us caught.”

Sybok huffed behind them, making his way into the room. “I think this is fun,” he said, and Jim smiled. He liked Sybok well enough, liked that he wasn’t quite as stiff as Spock, that he had so readily agreed to sneak out of the party. He was certainly more human than his brother, but the irony of that would be lost on Jim for many years.

Spock reluctantly followed the trio into the darkened bedroom. An impeccably made four-poster sat tucked against one wall, a vanity and an armoire against the other, currently covered with a thin white sheet to fend off the dust of disuse. On the far side of the room, a set of transparent aluminum doors led out to the balcony. Jim let go of his brother’s sleeve and bounded toward them.

The three older princes had, so far, indulged Jim his excitement, so they followed with little more protest as Jim commanded the doors open and they stepped out into the chilly evening.

Jim ran up to the balcony, grabbing the rail and leaning back so he could look at his companions upside-down.

“This is the best view in the whole palace, and no one’s gonna think to look for us here,” he explained as the three came to join him. Sam walked up beside him, Sybok and Spock following and standing to Jim’s other side. They all stared out over the gardens as the starlight of a rare, clear evening stretched over their heads.

From the banquet hall, the sound of chattering courtiers and muffled music could be heard, a serene sort of backdrop to the otherwise quiet evening.

But they were quiet for far too long for Jim’s liking. He glanced to Sam on his one side, then turned to the Vulcan princes on his other. A moment passed as he examined their sharp profiles against the blue light of evening, then he nudged Spock with his elbow. “So what do you want to do?” he asked, smiling brightly when both Vulcans looked his way. The last time he’d seen them, he’d only been six, and now that he was older he was just that much more excited by the prospect of befriending them. They were both closer to Sam’s age than his own, Spock twelve, Sybok sixteen, but they didn’t really intimidate him. Very little intimidated Prince Jim Kirk. More than anything, he thought they were interesting, like living science experiments.

“This is an adequate activity,” the younger Vulcan prince replied, placing his own hands on the rail and looking up.

Jim rolled his eyes. He didn’t know what ‘adequate’ meant, but he did know that it was a not-answer answer. Politicians did that all the time, he’d learned. Especially his parents.

“I didn’t ask if it was ade--ada-- whatever,” Jim whined, “I asked what you wanted to do.” Sam elbowed him.

“Be nice to our guests, Jim.” Sam spoke with the authority granted to him by the small golden circlet he still wore on his head, his coat still buttoned all the way up to his throat, shining in the starlight with all its gilt and embroidery. Jim had shed his own finery right outside the banquet doors the second they’d snuck off from the gala. Their differing dress lent Sam an air of superiority, though he was only thirteen and usually went along with Jim’s schemes anyway.

“He’s being very nice,” Sybok said, “it is not often people ask us what we want.”

Spock nodded, “That is true,” he agreed. “Your consideration is appreciated.” Jim looked up at Spock-- so much taller than he was, so lanky and awkward. Sybok looked Vulcan, a lot like King Sarek now that he was getting older, but he looked nothing like Spock. Jim wondered why, but didn’t ask.

“See?” Jim said, sticking out his tongue at his brother. “So like I said, what do you want to do?”

The Vulcans were silent for a moment, and Spock tilted his head upwards. “I would like to learn the constellations. I have not had the opportunity to view them from Terra.”

Sybok leaned forward, elbows on the rail. All of them were tall enough to lean over, except for Jim. “That would be nice,” Sybok agreed, turning to give Jim a small smile. Sybok had smiled-- albeit slightly-- so many times tonight, but Spock hadn’t even cracked his lips except to speak.

“We can teach you!” Jim offered immediately, thinking that’d be a surefire way to get Spock to smile, doing something he wanted to do. He turned excitedly to his brother. “Can’t we?”

“Do you even remember them all?” Sam’s tone was a little patronizing, so Jim drew himself up to his full height.

“‘Course I do,” Jim said with a sniff. He closed his eyes as he ran down the list of constellations he’d memorized. “There’s-- okay, Andromeda, Antlia, Apus, Aquarius, Aquila, Ara, Aries, Auriga...” he paused, trying to remember what came next. Everything after ‘a’ always gave him trouble until he got down the alphabet a ways.

“It would be most helpful if you might point them out as you list them,” Spock suggested, and beside him Sybok let out a very un-Vulcan-like chuckle.

Jim felt his cheeks flush, though he didn’t know why. He was just thankful it was dark so the Vulcans couldn’t judge him for it and his brother couldn’t tease him for it.

“Oh, right.” He turned to his brother, “Do you wanna…?”

“Go for it, Jim. You’re the starchild of the family,” Sam said with a laugh.

Jim grinned and sidled up closer to Spock, waving for Sybok to lean in, which he did. Standing on his toes to get on their eyeline, Jim pointed out the first constellation that caught his eye-- Cepheus.

“That one’s Cepheus,” he said, tracing the lines between the stars as best he could, though he started to tremble with the effort of staying on his tiptoes. “The king. He’s married to her,” here he moved his finger along the line of Cepheus’ scepter to find his queen. “Cassiopeia. They rule the sky like my parents rule Terra.”

“Fascinating,” Spock said, and there was the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. Jim glowed over his victory, his grin spreading wide when Spock turned to meet his eyes. He almost forgot what they were doing, but remembered just in time, turning back to the sky to find another constellation to please his new friends.

And if he sometimes forgot the mythology of them, or if he sometimes got one confused for another, it didn’t really matter. It was certainly more fun than they’d had at the stuffy party, and Jim was pleased that not only had they done something Spock wanted to do, but that he had discovered that he wanted to do the exact same thing.

Maybe they weren’t so different after all.

 


 

As members of the royal family, no one ever asked what Sam and Jim wanted. Their desires would be listened to if they expressed them, considered, occasionally approved, but Jim couldn’t remember if his family had ever asked him what he would like to do with his life. Starfleet, much as he loved it, had been George’s decision, a traditional role for the younger sibling of the royal family. No one had ever asked him if he wanted to be an admiral, or asked Sam if he wanted to be king.

No one had asked Sam if he wanted to marry Spock.

And Jim, for his part, had never asked Spock what he wanted. It was an oversight, and a cruel one, given Spock’s history. It was likely no one had asked Spock if he wanted to be married to Sam, nor did anyone seem to care.

Jim was in love with Spock. He knew that now with a clarity that stung every time his thoughts turned in that direction, which was often. And if he had known earlier, if he had been able to plan for this, maybe he could have done something about it. Maybe he could have petitioned the Vulcan government or done anything to shift the terms of the marriage so the damned hierarchy didn’t matter so much.

But it was that selfish part of him speaking up again, and Jim knew in his heart that any arrangement would be distasteful to Spock, that any decision made on his behalf would be a discomfort. He wouldn’t want to marry Jim any more than he wanted to marry Sam.

Maybe even less.

Even still, there was no way to be sure without making the very same assumptions their families had made in arranging this marriage. At least, there was no way to be sure without asking.

Since Jim’s revelation one day previous, Nyota had sent him more than fifty messages.

What are you planning?

What are you going to do?

Jim, are you going to sabotage the wedding?

Is this going to be a Mrs. Robinson thing?

Do I need to prepare any pleas for forgiveness?

And many more of that ilk. But Jim wasn’t planning anything. He couldn’t. Not without knowing if Spock would be receptive to his feelings. Alliances and politics and familial expectations be damned, the biggest concern Jim had was what Spock wanted.

So, he asked.

 


 

Jim had kept his promise to Nyota from all those weeks ago. While he still spent an appropriately friendly amount of time with Spock, he did so out of the public eye whenever possible. They’d taken to playing chess in either of their rooms, or visiting the palace’s labs at times of day that only a few scientists would be present.

The night after the wedding announcement, in lieu of the garden stroll Jim secretly wanted, he’d approached Spock after dinner to propose a different plan. Sam had gone to bed early, the moment the plates had been cleared, and Jim felt fit to steal his brother’s fiancee away for the night.

The phrase, “follow me,” was just vague enough to require trust, and Jim was pleased when Spock had not hesitated to nod his acquiescence.

Jim had led him off the banquet hall and down a corridor, up a flight of stairs and down a path that he wondered if Spock remembered. Then, when he stopped at a door and cast a smile over his shoulder at Spock, Spock’s shoulders seemed to straighten.

“The guest rooms,” he said knowingly.

“The empty guest rooms,” Jim clarified. He keyed in the familiar code and led Spock inside.

In seventeen years, little had changed. They so seldom utilized this wing, after all. There was an updated computer console in the corner, and someone had replaced the rug some time ago, but otherwise it was the same.

And, the only important part, it still had access to its small balcony.

Spock seemed to hesitate following Jim inside, as he had all those years ago, but he moved forward with relative ease once he realized Jim was heading straight for the balcony doors.

When they stepped out into the night-- muggy and heavy with the sweet scent rising from the garden, Jim grabbed the railing and cast a smile back at his friend.

Spock drew up beside him, still taller than Jim was, but not nearly as towering as he had been when they were children. He was still lanky, still thin and lithe, but rather than looking awkward in the moonlight he now only looked graceful, poised, royal and somehow soft. “Different set of constellations than last time we were up here,” Jim said, “but still beautiful.”

“Indeed,” Spock responded simply, gently, resting his hands on the railing beside Jim’s own. Their fingers were so close to touching, a friendly proximity that could have been more if Jim only had the courage to cross that small span of distance.

But he talked himself into patience, leaning forward and looking up to the constellations. He contemplated drawing Spock’s eye to the ones he hadn’t yet learned, but they were here for a purpose, and the urgency of ‘one week’ came back to Jim’s mind.

“Spock,” he started, and Spock looked down to him. He still stood straight, but everything else about his countenance seemed informal, relaxed. Jim liked him like this-- loved him like this.

“Yes, Jim?”

“I wanted to ask you something.” Jim felt nerves tickling at him, a pinprick of worry and doubt making the hair rise on his arms.

Spock seemed to stiffen just slightly beside him, and Jim looked up into his eyes, gleaming in the faint white starlight. If Jim didn’t know any better, he would say his own nerves were reflected in them.

“You may ask whatever you wish,” Spock responded, a sincerity to his voice that made Jim’s heart sink.

Jim took a breath, holding Spock’s gaze and trying to ask with his eyes all the implications of the question that now made its way almost reluctantly from his mouth. “Do you want to marry Sam?”

A beat of silence passed between them, broken only by the distant sound of crickets in the garden below them. “Excuse me?” Spock asked, and his voice seemed to have lost its gentle tone.

Jim cleared his throat, casting his eyes downward and finding the thin silhouettes of the sunflowers. He’d been looking to them for comfort more often lately, if only because they reminded him of Spock. “I just-- no one has asked. I just wanted to know if you actually wanted to marry him.”

Spock’s spine straightened until it was taut as a cable, and Jim stole a glance out of his periphery, trying to decipher the expression that, moments ago, had seemed so comfortable, warm and welcoming. Now, he looked like a statue again. It was unnerving how quickly the shift occurred.

“If you are asking whether I will be an adequate husband to your brother, I assure you--”

“No, no,” Jim corrected. “I’m-- I’m sure you’ll make a great husband. I just wanted to know if that’s what you want .”

“Marrying Prince George is logical,” Spock finally said. “For the alliance, of course. But I suspect your question is more personal in nature?”

Jim looked to him, a sort of tentative smile making its way to his lips, “That was the idea, yes,” he said gently.

Spock nodded, lips tightening as though he had hoped Jim would’ve been content with what was ‘logical for the alliance.’

“The answer is the same, nevertheless. It is logical to marry him. He is a good man. We have discussed politics and science at length and have many points of commonality. It is likely we will rule efficiently together.”

“All due respect, Spock, that’s a not-answer answer,” Jim said, leaning over to nudge Spock with his shoulder. Spock’s gaze snapped to him at the movement, and Jim wondered in a flash if that had been a bad idea. Spock never seemed to mind casual contact like that before, but it was likely he was feeling particularly vulnerable, given the line of questioning.

“It is illogical to ask after one’s desires when no choice is present,” Spock said, and his tone was all ice. It sent an immediate chill down Jim’s spine, in spite of the warmth of the night.

“I know,” Jim said. But still some kind of abject surety within him told him that they could make a choice where none was present, if only that choice was wanted.

“Then may I ask why you would pose the question?”

“Because no one else has,” Jim said again, simply. It was true, if not the whole truth.

Spock was silent for a moment, clearly perturbed, and Jim wondered momentarily if he should pull back. He hadn’t meant to make Spock uncomfortable. Quite the opposite. After their discussion in the garden the night of Sarek’s heart attack, when they’d talked so openly about choice and autonomy, he thought Spock might appreciate this.

“Can you provide any logical reason why I should not wish to marry your brother?” Spock finally asked, his voice quiet, cold, assessing.

It was Jim’s turn to straighten, surprise at the question widening his eyes. He pulled himself together quickly, though, shooting Spock a look he hoped didn’t contain his panic.

Because I love you, he thought, heart pounding at the very idea of saying those words aloud right now. Because you could marry me, if you wanted to. If you didn’t want to marry him. If you wanted to try to love me instead.

But even he wasn’t reckless enough to risk his heart on Spock’s stoney expression.

“Not necessarily. Unless you don’t want to.”

“‘Want’ is inconsequential.”

“Do you love him?”

Spock turned to face Jim fully now, with tight brows and a straight line of a mouth and shoulders squared like he was ready for a fight. It caught Jim completely off-guard and he stepped back slightly, worried.

“Vulcans cannot love,” he said stiffly.

But Jim had Nyota’s word and the evidence of Sarek’s affection, to counter that statement. He opened his mouth to say so when Spock tilted up his chin, his next words coming out harsh and angled. “You act as though your asking after my desires is a kindness. It is true, no one else has asked, but it is likely they-- including your brother-- understand that asking what one wants when one cannot make the choice to pursue it is cruel. I will find contentment with your brother. That is a great deal more than most in our situation could hope for, and a great deal more than I could hope for with another.”

Or with you, hung the silent continuation, and Jim didn’t need to hear it to know it was true.

Jim gaped at him, any words he wanted to say falling from his mind, any hope he may have had entering into this conversation fleeing him with that look in Spock’s eyes. His memories flashed back to the photo of them on the bridge, to Spock’s look of fondness, to his comfort and the way they had stood so close as to be mistaken for lovers.

Now, Spock forced distance between them, physically and otherwise, and Jim wondered at the sad truth that one photo, one moment, didn’t represent anything more than that.

“Oh,” he finally said, “I-- Spock--”

“I believe I will retire for the evening,” Spock interrupted, hands stiff behind his back where he seemed to be gripping his wrists. Jim reached out a hand that didn’t quite make it to Spock’s elbow, knowing the hurt he was feeling was evident in his expression, and hardly caring.

“Spock--”

“I will see you tomorrow, Prince James,” Spock said, the formality of his tone leaving no room for argument. “Good evening.”

And with that, he turned and walked away, steps measured as he disappeared into the darkness of the room beyond. The door opened to a sliver of golden light, Spock standing against it-- a single hard, still shadow-- before he stepped out into the corridor and the door closed quietly behind him.

Jim stood where Spock had left him for a good long while, trying to catch his breath, trying to reexamine every twist and turn of their conversation to figure out where he’d gone so horribly wrong. When finally he made his way back to his rooms, it was with heavy feet and a heavier heart.

Spock may not have wanted Sam, but he certainly hadn’t hinted that he could ever want Jim either. ‘Content,’ Spock had said. He could be content.

Jim wanted more for Spock than ‘content.’ But it was clear now that he could not give that to him, having apparently misunderstood him so desperately. Maybe ‘content’  was the best they could hope for. Jim knew he was optimistic to a fault. Jim knew he could be willful and even stubborn. Jim knew he could push too hard sometimes to accomplish what he thought was right. And in this case, he had.

He didn’t agree that what Spock wanted was irrelevant, but he couldn’t force Spock into anything. Nor did he want to. Whether Spock realized it or not, he had made a choice, to follow the path laid out for him.

When it came down to it, maybe they were both powerless.

He returned to his room and laid on his bed, grabbing his padd and reading back through Nyota’s messages. He hadn’t responded to any of them, but now he steeled himself to do so.

I’m not planning anything, he wrote. The wedding’s on. You don’t have to worry.

The response came almost immediately. Should I worry about you?

When he didn’t answer, choosing instead to stare at the question blankly, another message popped in. I’m coming over. I’ll bring something to drink.

He allowed himself a small smile, sad though it was. While crying into a bottle wasn’t exactly how he’d wanted to spend this evening, it felt like a better idea than any he could come up with.

 


 

Jim Kirk did not believe in no-win scenarios, but that did not mean that he would always be the one to win. Sometimes, a win had to be measured in other terms, more logical terms, to borrow Spock’s phrasing. The wedding was logical. Sam and Spock together were logical. It would be a win for their individual planets, for the stability of the galaxy. It would be a win for them as rulers. It would be a win for their families, who were relying on the success of this partnership.

And while Jim had to accept that, he did not have to be happy about it. And, in fact, he reserved the right to be miserable.

Four days after the announcement, Jim hadn’t yet stopped walking around in a fog.

Each day, he talked with Spock as though their argument had never happened, putting on his best smile, asking how he was doing, offering to help with any wedding preparations, just as he’d offered to Nyota and his parents. He expected the rest of them to be too distracted to notice his melancholy, but he couldn’t help a tinge of hurt that Spock didn’t seem to notice. If nothing else, Jim thought for sure that rejecting the third offer for a chess match and two offers to visit the museum would have clued Spock in.

It was hard to reject him, but it was harder to be around him. Every time Jim saw Spock-- whether he was talking with Sam, wedding planning with his parents, or even sitting alone in the library-- his heart did its best to stop working, consistently faltering over its own beat in a way that Jim knew was dangerous for his own outward composure. All he knew was to avoid that feeling, at least as much as he was able.

If anyone else noticed his mood, they didn’t mention it either. Every time he spoke with his parents, they had some new tidbit of wedding planning to share with him, an opinion on the flower arrangements, a distaste at the slow response of the tailor who was supposed to be finished with Sam’s suit by now, mundanities that Jim could only barely pretend to care about.

At least, until those mundanities affected him, which turned out to be during breakfast on the fifth day after the announcement.

“So how’s your toast coming along, Jimmy?” George asked around a mouthful of eggs, his eyes fixed expectantly on his son. At this, the rest of the table looked up. Thankfully, the Vulcans were in the habit of taking breakfast much earlier than the humans, so Jim only had to suffer the scrutiny of his mother, father and brother, but he found he couldn’t meet any of their eyes, especially when he was sure shock would show in his own.

He had completely forgotten about the toast. As best man, he would be required to deliver one at the rehearsal dinner the next night. Given everything, he forgave himself for having allowed it to slip his mind, but his parents would not be so understanding.

He pushed his breakfast around his plate, fork drawing divots into syrup. “Great,” he responded after what was likely too long a pause. “It’ll blow everyone away.” He tried to inject some kind of enthusiasm into his voice, but he didn’t know how successful he was. Luckily, they seemed to accept it.

“Glad to hear it,” George said. “I’m happy to look it over before tomorrow night, if you’d like. I’ve given quite a few toasts myself, you know.” He flashed a white-toothed smile and Jim found it in himself to smile back.

“Thanks, Jim,” Sam said. “It’s really good of you to throw it together on such short notice.”

Jim managed a grin at his brother. “Ah, no need to thank me. This is my only wedding duty. You should really be thanking Nyota for planning all this in a week.”

Sam laughed, “I’m arranging a fruit basket for her, promise.”

The table had a good chuckle at that, and Jim returned his eyes to his breakfast as the conversation moved on, something about the menu for tomorrow night. He didn’t pay attention.

Immediately after breakfast, Jim sequestered himself in the library, attempting to write. It was easier to focus in here, with the sound of wandering footsteps and hushed conversation to distract him from his own thoughts, but in spite of the fact that writing speeches typically came easy to him, he spent more than an hour on his opening paragraph, and then a good long while after that staring blankly at the screen.

Until a figure drew up beside his computer console and Jim looked up from his work, such as it was, to see Spock hovering nearby.

“Spock,” Jim said in surprise, closing out of the document before Spock could catch any of it over his shoulder. His shock was too evident, though, the guilt returning to his expression even as he tried to stop it, so he did his best to plaster on a royal grin. “Trying to get a sneak peek at my toast?”

“Your…? No, my apologies,” Spock said, somewhat self-consciously. “I did not realize that you were busy.”

Something in his tone gave Jim pause, and Jim swiveled in his seat to regard him more fully. “I’m not,” he said. He was, of course, but Spock had approached him with intent, and though Jim had been trying to avoid speaking to Spock one-on-one, he also knew he couldn’t deny him anything when that look in Spock’s eyes held him.

Spock nodded, distracted, and looked down briefly. “I would like to apologize,” he said out-of-the-blue. It was a near whisper to avoid the echo, but Jim heard it loud and clear.

“For what?” he asked, still wearing his smile. Though he assumed he knew.

“For losing my temper. I have not apologized because I did not wish to admit that I was at fault, but you did not deserve to be the focus of my outburst. I recognize that you have been avoiding my company, and so--”

Jim held up a hand and stood, keeping his own voice low. There weren’t many people nearby, but he knew for a fact there was a group of court scientists by the windows and a few courtiers between the stacks, and he didn’t want to draw attention.

“It’s not that, Spock,” he said honestly, a surge of self-loathing rising at the understanding that he had caused Spock any guilt. “I’m the one who should apologize. You were right; I shouldn’t have pried.”

Spock seemed to take in a short breath-- relief, almost. For such a small gesture, it had an enormous impact on Jim’s composure. His princely smile faded, and his heart did that dance that it always seemed to do when Spock showed Jim his genuine self.

“Thank you, Jim,” Spock said, the quiet single syllable of Jim’s name sounding like a prayer on Spock’s lips. Jim kicked himself internally for thinking as much, for putting any weight to Spock’s words that wasn’t there. And before he could find it in himself to speak, Spock did, tone coming off forcibly casual. “I thought, perhaps, you might be willing to join me for chess,” Spock said, “provided you are not otherwise engaged.”

The word and its double-meaning were not lost on Jim, who only barely managed to contain a snort of desperate laughter. Spock was the one who was otherwise ‘engaged,’ he thought, but he didn’t say it aloud. If he was to make peace with that fact, he would have to do his best to ignore it. But he couldn’t ignore Spock. Five days, he’d been trying, and now Spock stood before him contrite and kind. Jim wanted to say no, wanted to put a fence around his heart and keep it safe at all costs. But the cost of denying himself that warm look in Spock’s eyes was too high.

“I’d like that,” he said, even as everything in him that loved and longed for Spock protested the statement.

Spock shifted slightly on his feet, that relief making its way into his expression. He may not have loved Jim, but it was clear he valued their friendship. Jim would be no better than their families if he took that away without thought for Spock’s feelings.

So they left the library to set up a game in Jim’s rooms, playing for a few hours before calling it a day. There were moments, when Spock’s eyes met his own, that he forgot for a second why the air itself seemed to weigh heavy on his back, forgot the heartache and the worry and the reality of what the next two days would bring. It was a lovely, brief fantasy, to talk with his friend as though nothing had changed, to pretend that they were still just two princes from two allied planets with a friendship based on familiarity and mutual interests, to pretend that Jim’s heart didn’t break whenever he thought beyond their little table. But as evening set in and Spock excused himself to get ready for dinner, the prospect of Jim’s toast loomed again before him.

He revisited the lone opening paragraph before getting ready for dinner himself, reading it back over with a sense of inevitable defeat. He’d never read anything so stilted and dishonest in his life, and he thought as he read it again and again and saw the blank page stretching long beneath it that he couldn’t do this. It wouldn’t work. He couldn’t possibly congratulate Sam and Spock on the very thing that had caused Jim’s heart to begin cracking like cement at the first tremors of an earthquake.

So when dinner rolled around, Jim tried to find an opportunity to speak with Sam, to beg his brother to force their father into making the toast. George could write one in five minutes that would be so much more genuine than anything Jim could pen, and if it meant Jim couldn’t be best man anymore, so be it. He never wanted it anyway.

But Sam had been seated across from Jim (and beside Spock) at dinner, as he often was, and Jim had not yet had an opportunity to say more than a hurried greeting to him.

Thankfully, the second Sam set down his fork on his half-eaten dinner plate, Jim sensed an opening. “I’m getting a little tired,” he heard Sam say to Spock across the table. “If you wouldn’t mind excusing me.”

“Of course, Prince George,” Spock said softly, nodding his acquiescence.

Sam stood, setting his napkin down beside his plate and casting an apologetic smile around the table. It wasn’t a diplomatic dinner, nor was it tied to the wedding as tomorrow night’s would be, so only the family and a few high up courtiers were in attendance.

Of course no one faulted him for leaving early. Tomorrow was the day before his wedding after all. He would be busy. Everyone said their goodnights, Jim included, though he had plans to follow, and they returned to their meals as Sam wandered tiredly out into the corridor. Jim staunchly avoided Spock’s eyes, focusing instead on a conversation he’d been holding on and off with Sarek about how Sybok was faring as interim monarch. The Crown Prince of Vulcan would be arriving tomorrow for the rehearsal and the following day’s wedding, and according to Sarek he was none too happy about it. Ruling a planet seemed to agree with Sybok. He had that borderline-arrogant intensity to him that had-- since Jim had noticed it as a teenager-- made him Jim’s least favorite of the two brothers. Though, since Jim had fallen in love with Spock, he admitted that was a high bar to meet.

After a few minutes, when Amanda thankfully drew Sarek’s attention, he turned from the Vulcan king to his mother beside him, who was sipping quietly and contentedly on her drink. “I think I’m going to check on Sam,” he said, glad to finally have an opportunity to do so. “See if he’s okay. I’m sure he’s a little stressed out.”

She gave Jim a smile, unknowing that his motivations were entirely self-serving. “Thank you, Jimmy. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.” She patted his shoulder and set down her glass. “Good night, darling.”

He nodded, said his own goodnights and left without a backward glance. He sensed Spock’s eyes on him, but decided that was more likely wishful thinking than it was anything else.

Sam’s rooms were near Jim’s own, though he had a larger space due to his station, and so kept his bedroom at the far end of the wing. It took Jim a good few minutes to get there, but he was sure Sam wouldn’t yet be sleeping. He pressed the comm for the door and waited.

Nothing.

That was strange. Sam had clearly said he was going to bed, so he should have been in. He pressed the comm again. Nothing.

So, he knocked, which wasn’t the most practical way to get Sam’s attention, but hopefully it would convey his insistence.

“Sam, are you in there? I need to talk to you, and I know you aren’t asleep.” Sam was a terrible insomniac, especially when he was nervous. There was no way he could have conked out in the half hour since Jim had last seen him.

Thankfully, just as Jim contemplated hacking into the door control, it slid open in front of him, revealing a very disheveled-looking brother. His tunic was on inside-out, his hair mussed, and a look of contrition spread like a signed confession of guilt on his face. He stood full in the doorway, as though purposely obscuring Jim’s vision into the room.

“Jim, hi, what is it?” He said affably, though his eyes betrayed his nerves.

Jim’s stomach sank like a brick, and he felt his arms fall limply to his sides. Beyond Sam’s shoulder, the room was dark, but with the moonlight coming in from outside he could clearly see the wide expanse of the floor, the lush blue carpet dotted with discarded clothes.

“Sam,” Jim said, a sort of horror creeping up on him just as it creeped into his tone.

His brother opened his mouth as if to speak, cast a quick glance behind himself where Jim heard the shuffle of movement, then looked back to Jim, clearly aware he wasn’t nearly as subtle as he thought he was.

Suddenly sick to his stomach, Jim turned and made his way swiftly down the hall, fists clenched at his sides.

Shouts followed him at first, a “Jim, wait!” from Sam, and a woman’s voice hissing, “Shit, Jim, please come back.” But his blood was roaring in his ears and he just had to move. Soon, he heard footsteps running down the carpet behind him, and a hand shot out to grip his shoulder.

Jim turned, eyes falling on his brother’s stricken face before shifting behind him where a familiar woman was following, awkwardly stepping into her shoes as she tried to hurry, her auburn hair rumpled and her dress zipped hastily, a little twisted over her body.

Jim swallowed. “Aurelan?” He asked, though he knew her well. She was one of their court scientists, a promising young biologist that Jim had spoken with often enough to know her by name, to insist she call him by his own. And, Jim realized, suddenly feeling very, very dense, Sam had been working with her in his studies for nearly two years.

“Jim,” Sam said, voice hushed and hurried, “please don’t tell anyone.”

Aurelan drew up beside Sam, her lips tight with worry. “Please,” she echoed, “we were just saying goodbye, I promise.”

Sam turned to her, his face betraying his surprise, which meant that was another obvious lie. Jim put his head in his hand, knocking Sam’s hand from his shoulder. “My god, Sam,” he whispered, trying to get himself under control so he could accurately express the myriad things wrong with this situation. “How could you--”

“I know,” Sam said, drawing back slightly. “I know, but, Jim, it’s not just-- It’s not what it looks like. We’re in love.”

Jim’s eyes shot up to him, then to Aurelan, who was staring guiltily at the ground. “Why didn’t you say something ?” he asked, the despair in his voice palpable.

“It’s forbidden,” Sam said with an air of defeat. “We’re supposed to marry nobles, remember? Especially me. Before this whole arranged marriage I thought maybe we could work something out, but--”

“But you decided to just, what?” Jim threw his arms in the air, but he kept his voice to a low hiss, mindful that a servant could come wandering down the hallway at any moment. “Carry on in secret? In spite of the fact that you’re marrying Spock in less than two days ?”

“There’s no love there, Jim, you know that.”

Jim’s heart fell even farther. No love. Sam cared so little for Spock that he wouldn’t even give him his loyalty.

“Do you plan to-- to keep this up, then? Jim asked, gesturing between the two of them. Aurelan glanced to Sam, then back to Jim. Sam looked like he didn’t quite know what to say, but Aruelan swallowed and nodded.

“Jim,” she said, “please understand. When you love someone you can’t just shove it aside like it’s-- like it’s nothing . You can pretend, but it doesn’t go away.”

Sam reached for her, and she took his hand, their fingers lacing. Jim’s eyes fell to the contact and misery overwhelmed his anger. She was right, but she was also so wrong.

“But Spock,” Jim said, eyes lifting to Sam once again. “How many times do I have to ask you to just do right by him?”

Sam shifted on his feet, giving Jim a look as though he thought Jim might hit him at any moment. “Jim, Spock… Spock knows .”

“I-- what?”

“Spock knows. He figured it out a few weeks ago.”

“And you’re still-- Sam, this is sick . He knows you’re cheating on him?”

“Spock doesn’t want to sleep with me,” Sam said defensively. “And, sure, he’s handsome enough, but I don’t want to sleep with him either. He said he’ll-- he’ll keep quiet about it. He doesn’t want anything to ruin the alliance.”

“I’m sick to death of the damned alliance,” Jim practically spat, and he turned on his heel. Fists at his sides, he began to stalk away.

“Jim,” Aurelan’s voice spoke up, somewhat meekly. He turned, teeth clenched. “You aren’t going to tell anyone, are you?”

Jim let out a breath through his nose, looked to her, then to his brother. “What’s the point?” he asked. “Of course I won’t.” And he turned away again, making his way back to his rooms. Something in him was burning, a flame of anger and anguish that had just ignited as though blown by a bellows. Spock knew. Spock knew and just let it carry on?

Jim wasn’t under any delusion that Spock was in love with Sam, but he would think Spock would take some kind of objection to his future husband sleeping with someone else.

But this was Spock, and Spock was 90 percent logic and 10 percent good intentions, and if Sam loved Aurelan then Spock wouldn’t want to keep them apart. He’d do the logical thing, allow it to continue and do his duty as a husband and king.

But what kind of life was that? Knowing you weren’t wanted by the one person you were tied to for life?

As that thought swirled sickly in his gut, Spock’s own words returned to him. “Want” was irrelevant in their situation. Sam and Aurelan wanted each other. And Spock wanted what was best for the alliance.

At least now Jim knew that everyone would be happy-- or, well, content -- with the arrangement as it stood now. Everyone but Jim himself. He couldn’t live like this. Aurelan was right. Pretending was an option, but love didn’t just go away. Jim loved Spock, and that was never going to change. And, really, for all his ability to plaster on fake smiles, he didn’t know how long he could pretend, either.

 


 

The banquet table at the rehearsal dinner was packed with people. Every high- to mid-level courtier, every member of the Terran royal family, even Sybok who had arrived only an hour previous, and now sat with a sort of half-smirk on his face near the head of the table where Spock and Sam sat in the seats of honor.

Jim had been putting off his only duty for hours now, but the plates were starting to clear away and his father had begun shooting him furtive looks, and finally Jim gave him a placating smile and stood, weary on his legs, a grin stretching his lips that he hoped didn’t look as unnatural and twisted as it felt.

This morning, he had almost asked George himself to deliver the toast. The king would have done so, but there would have been questions. Jim didn’t think he could field those questions without letting something slip, and without Sam there to advocate for him. He knew himself, and knew the state of his heart. If anyone asked, he would have spilled everything. This would be better. Just a few short minutes, a few honest words, and then he could retreat back into his own head, finish putting together the plan that wouldn’t come close to fixing the situation, but would at least remove him from it.

He clinked his fork against his glass and held his drink aloft as he stood. All eyes turned toward him and he looked around the table as if there was nowhere else he’d rather be.

He was grateful for his ability to act, to bluff, to deflect. Hopefully no one would know that he’d spent the last two days writing and rewriting a stilted speech, throwing it out and finally coming up with something he thought he might be able to say without choking on his own dishonesty. It didn’t have to be long or flowery. It just had to be.

“Thank you for your attention,” Jim said loudly to the table at large, waiting for the last voices to hush. He began with a playful sort of grin, a raising of his arms. “As you may have heard, there’s to be a royal wedding tomorrow!” He said this with enough enthusiasm to draw some cheers from the crowd, already loosened up and excitable. Thank goodness, courtiers were easy. “It’s an honor to be a part of this historic occasion,” Jim continued. “The marriage of two planets, and two wonderful people. My brother, Prince George,” Jim lifted his glass to Sam, who was looking at Jim as though he were about to detonate, as if Jim would spill the beans about his affair right here at the table. “My brother,” he continued, “is the best man I’ve ever known.” Sam’s eyes softened and he seemed to relax, a breath leaving him. “We’ve been best friends since the day I was born. We look out for each other, tell each other everything-- well, almost everything.” He punctuated this with a laugh that drew chuckles from around the table, insinuating embarrassing secrets, but it certainly ratcheted up Sam’s obvious discomfort once again.

“And Prince Spock,” here Jim turned his eyes to the man he loved, Spock who sat ramrod straight, eyes fixed on Jim with full, complete attention. Jim met that gaze, fearlessly and without restraint, looking into the depths of Spock’s eyes and allowing himself to, wondering if it were obvious the way he sank into them. He couldn’t help the way his voice softened, the way his smile wilted at the sight of him. “Prince Spock,” he repeated, regaining himself, “is a very singular kind of man. He is the one person in this room who can claim to hold both Terra and Vulcan in his blood. The one person in this room whose sole focus is on what is best for our alliance. Prince Spock is the most genuine of all of us, and just as I know he will make an excellent king. I know, too, that he will make an excellent husband. He has already shown my brother more kindness than I’m capable of,” another chuckle, another laugh from around the table, masking the truth with humor. “And I, for one, will be proud to call him family.”

If Jim hadn’t been looking directly into Spock’s eyes, he may not have noticed the imperceptible narrowing, the lines that deepened slightly at their corners. It was like he was studying Jim as subtly as he could, and Jim felt, uncomfortably, irrevocably, completely understood.

He looked away.

“So, I ask you all to join me in a toast to Prince George and Prince Spock, future kings of Terra. May their rule be long.” He raised his glass and the table did the same, a cheer ringing out.

Jim sank back into his seat the moment it was socially acceptable to do so, giving a smile to the grooms that he didn’t feel, then turning his attention downward. Nyota, seated to his side, laid a hand on his thigh.

He looked to her. “That was an excellent toast, your highness,” she said pointedly, making it very clear she was saying something else. I’m sorry. Are you okay? What do you need from me?

“Thank you, Nyota,” he responded with a winning grin, “I meant every word.” She seemed, too, to understand what he meant. I can’t think about it right now. I can’t talk about it. I can’t do anything.

He couldn’t do anything.

  


 

A Proposal

To the ruling body of Terra, King George, Queen Winona and Crown Prince George III.

I, Prince James Tiberius Kirk of Terra, submit this proposal for your consideration:

With the marriage of my brother to Prince S’chn T’gai Spock of Vulcan, and with the future rule of the planet assured, I believe it is an appropriate time to take my involvement with our planet’s illustrious Starfleet to its next logical level. While the dangers have been noted and given as reason to keep me grounded, I would like to draw your attention to the incident report statistics attached to this proposal.

Violent altercations have decreased dramatically as our diplomatic policies have evolved. This year, the exploratory arm of Starfleet has suffered two losses of life, in comparison to the twenty-eight lost by this time three years ago.

At least part of this favorable trend is related to policies I and my fellow admirals have put into place re: crisis negotiation training for each officer, increased weapons proficiency requirements and policies for interacting with alien races and planets that encourage diplomacy over violence.

It is clear to me that, were I involved in Starfleet on a practical, physical basis, I would be better able to determine need and institute even more changes to the betterment of our fleet. It is for this reason I request sanction to captain my own vessel.

Please, get me off of this planet. Please, you have to understand. I can’t live in this palace with them. I can’t pretend. I can’t be here after tomorrow after the wedding after there’s no turning back I can’t stay here please just get me off this planet

 

Jim laid his head in his hands, elbows on the desk, taking a deep, steadying breath. It was two in the morning, Spock and Sam were getting married in eight hours, and here he was-- penning a proposal to get him off Terra as soon as humanly possible.

This was the best option, wasn’t it? If Spock didn’t want him, if Sam’s affair hadn’t been enough to convince Spock to break off the marriage, if the alliance was the most important thing in the damned universe, then this was the best option. Leave the happy couple to rule on Terra and get away from it all. At least he knew his beloved planet would be in good hands. Sam would make a terrible king, they all knew that and had known it for a very long time, but Spock would be wonderful. Spock would care. Spock would try. Spock would--

Spock would be married to Jim’s brother in eight hours.

And Jim was running away.

He was running away.

He lifted his head from his hands, looking around his empty room as though seeing it for the first time, though he wasn’t actually seeing it at all. Instead, he was seeing what was absent. Cushioned chairs in the sitting area were empty, as was the chaise by the window. There was no one in his bed, no one at the reading table, a single mug sitting beside his little food synthesizer where every day he made his solitary morning coffee before breakfast. He was alone in here, and the message he was typing out on his screen would lock him inside, ensure his loneliness forever. It would trap him in a decision made out of haste and fear and despair.

It wasn’t like him. Jim Kirk didn’t run away. Jim Kirk didn’t give up. And yes, he knew Spock cared more about the alliance than he did Jim. He knew Spock wouldn’t bet the future of the quadrant on Jim’s feelings. But Jim realized then as a horrified sense of understanding rose in him, that he hadn’t even told Spock how he felt. He’d danced around it, drawn his own conclusions, and decided that the risk wasn’t worth it.

But the risk was always worth it in love, wasn’t it? Jim believed in love. He always had. He’d been so insistent Sam do this right because he believed in love. And god, if he couldn’t risk his heart on Spock, what cause would he ever find that would even compare?

Eight hours. He had eight hours until the wedding.

But it would only take about seven minutes to get to Spock’s rooms.

Jim shot out of his chair, kicking it back, and didn’t waste a moment running out his door. The halls were dark, empty this late, and he knew he could skirt the nighttime servants if he just avoided the main halls. He ran fast as his feet would fly, just as he’d done the night Nyota had called him to the Vulcan wing. He careened around corners, heart pounding, realizing as he ran how much time he had wasted, how many days he’d spent wallowing when he should have just said from the very beginning how he felt.

He had been so afraid of shattering possibilities, but he couldn’t be, not anymore. There was too much at stake. His own happiness, yes, but maybe-- God-- maybe Spock’s, too.

This was a terrible idea. This was sabotage. This was treason. This was willful and idiotic and had the potential to ruin far more than his brother’s marriage. But Jim would never have been able to live with himself if he didn’t try.

His feet carried him all the way into the Vulcans’ wing before he slowed, before he managed to grind to a halt in front of Spock’s door.

Helpfully, his mind decided to remind him now that it was painfully early, or painfully late depending on how one looked at it, but if he was going to throw caution to the wind, he might as well throw it all.

He pressed the comm for the door and waited, breath coming in short bursts from the rush-- internally and externally.

When the door slid open, it was to a brightly lit room, Spock’s figure standing before him dressed in a long sleeping robe, though his eyes were bright and awake. They widened now in surprise, and Jim didn’t blame him.

“Jim?” Spock asked, and Jim would have laughed at how illogical the question was if his nerves hadn’t been choking him.

“Spock, I need to talk with you.” No preamble. The rush he’d felt to get here hadn’t dissipated. He had to say his peace and he had to say it now.

“It is two in the morning, Jim.”

“I know,” Jim said, an apology in his tone that he was far too hurried to give voice to right now. “May I come in?”

Spock’s lips thinned, but he stepped aside. Nodding his thanks, Jim wandered in, standing nervously just over the threshold while Spock commanded the door closed and turned to face him. It would have been smart of Jim to consider what he might say before making the trip all this way, but he was good at improvising.

“Would you like to sit?” Spock asked, motioning to one of the chairs by the window. Jim glanced at it. He was restless with too much energy, too nervous to sit. But, in spite of having shown up unannounced in the wee hours of the morning on Spock’s wedding day, he also wasn’t rude.

“Ah, yes, sure, thank you.” He moved to the chair, a big, purple plush thing with gold- embroidered edges that seemed out of place in contrast to Spock’s austere presence, and moreso when Spock sat in the identical chair across from him. The window between them was cracked open, letting in the scent of eucalyptus and flowers, and Jim forced himself to take a deep, long breath.

“You seem… distressed,” Spock said cautiously. “May I inquire as to the nature of your visit?”

Jim’s heart stuttered in his chest, an unsteady rhythm that made him clench and unclench his fingers nervously on the arms of the chair. He could do this. He had to do this. Spock was right there, mere feet away, and still it felt like there was an ocean between them.

He shifted slightly to get more comfortable, trying to relax.

“I-- Listen, Spock,” Jim began, then ran his hand over his face, rubbed his jaw and closed his eyes, trying to parse his thoughts. “Tomorrow.”

And that word fell out entirely on its own, as though it had expected to be its own, coherent thought. Introducing a topic? A headline, maybe? Jim didn’t even know. Nor did he know how he had expected to follow it.

“I believe you mean today, if you are referring to the wedding,” Spock provided.

Jim nodded, fixing his eyes on Spock’s face, which looked completely unreadable in the room’s bright yellow light, perfectly controlled, as though he were steeling himself. “Right. Today then,” Jim said. “You’re-- Spock, you’re going to make the biggest decision of your life today.” Spock raised an eyebrow, opened his mouth to speak, but Jim held up a hand against his protest. “I know. I know it doesn’t feel like a decision. It was someone else’s choice to throw you two together. But it will be your decision to say ‘I do.’ Or not. And-- the thing is--” Jim scrambled for a second, trying to find some logical way to lead into what he had to say. When it occurred to him, he said it in a rush. “The thing is, you’re a scientist .”

Spock’s curious look now turned concerned, as though he were worried Jim was losing his mind. God, maybe he was. “And,” Jim barreled ahead, raising a finger. “And a scientist would never make a decision without all the relevant information, right?”

Spock seemed to startle when he realized Jim actually wanted an answer to his question and wasn’t just rambling. “That is… an accurate statement,” he said cautiously.

Jim gave a decisive clap of his hands, a sound which seemed too loud in the large, otherwise silent room. “Good, right. So, you see, Spock. You don’t-- you don’t have all the information.”

Understanding dawned on Spock’s face, and he nodded sagely, his shoulders seeming to slacken. “Ah, you are referring to your brother’s relationship with Miss Aurelan Jira. I assure you, this does not come as a surprise to me.”

It took a moment for that to catch up, as Jim hadn’t thought about his brother or Aurelan since he’d walked through that door. His focus now was on Spock, on himself, on those feelings that had risen up so quickly and so strong and now just couldn’t be denied a moment longer. When finally he realized the direction of Spock’s thoughts, he waved them away. “Oh! No, no that’s not-- I know you already know about that, though I still can’t fathom why you’re okay with it, but--” he shook his head, “But that doesn’t matter right now.”

While this answer seemed to catch Spock off-guard, it also made him raise his walls. He fixed Jim with a steady stare, lifting his chin slightly. When the obvious answer was removed from the equation, it was only natural he’d be more cautious.

“Then what is it you wish to tell me, Jim?”

Jim took a deep breath, examining Spock’s face. How could he explain it? He didn’t even know what he was trying to accomplish with this. It could do far more damage than good, but--

He stood, unable to sit immobile anymore, striding a few feet into the center of the room and reluctantly turning back to Spock. He held his hands behind his back so Spock couldn’t see the way he gripped his own fingers with white knuckles.

Spock stood himself, stepped carefully forward, joining Jim in the middle of this echoingly large chamber, standing as if they were two islands in a sea, his eyes fixed on Jim’s own.

“I know you said,” Jim began, “that when there isn’t a choice it’s not logical to think of what you want. But, Spock, I have been thinking about what I want. And it’s selfish, but I’ve never-- I’ve never thought about what I wanted before. Not like this. And thinking about what I want, it’s incredibly clear to me what I don’t want, and,” He paused, releasing his hands to flop them uselessly at his sides. “Spock, I don’t…. I don’t want you to marry my brother.”

Spock’s spine straightened, and Jim swallowed, scanning Spock’s face for any sign of anger or upset. But he didn’t see anything. No flicker of emotion at all.

“You said," Spock began, speaking the way someone would step onto frozen water, tentative and testing, “that you could not provide a logical reason to break the betrothal.”

“I can’t,” Jim said honestly, wishing he could. “It’s not logical at all. Frankly, it’s about as emotional and ill-conceived as I can imagine a reason to be. I just want…” he trailed off, shaking his head, impatient with his own lack of articulation. But he didn’t have to think about this, did he? All he had to do was say it. As plainly and simply as he could. “I want you to want me instead.”

Spock was looking at him, his eyes widening, and Jim’s heartbeat felt like a whole orchestra the way its rhythm built and crashed inside him. He swallowed something hard in his throat.

“If you could clarify,” Spock asked, and amazement rose in Jim when he heard the choke in Spock’s throat, subtle but undeniably changing the tone of those words. “I do not believe I understand fully.”

Jim couldn’t help himself. He should have, he should have, he should have, but his body began to shift without any permission from his mind. He moved forward a cautious step, then another, standing right in front of Spock and raising his hands to grip Spock’s arms. Their eyes were locked on each other as the room, the whole world faded away, and Jim thought he saw fear in Spock’s usually inscrutable expression. “I love you,” Jim said finally, and a strange sort of laugh bubbled up in him as he gripped a little tighter, feeling the clench of Spock’s bicep under his fingers. “I really, desperately love you. And I never would have forgiven myself if I had watched my brother put a ring on your finger without telling you so.”

The silence that echoed after Jim’s quiet admission was deafening in its own way. He could hear Spock’s breath, but couldn’t tell if there was anything abnormal in its pattern. He could hear his own pulse, blood surging through him fast as it ever had, enough to make his fingertips tingle. But Spock hadn’t yet said a word, and all Jim could see in his eyes was surprise, apprehension, some unnameable darkness. His heart began to flatline the longer the silence lasted, until finally Spock seemed to find it in himself to act.

Spock lowered his eyes, and-- almost imperceptibly slowly-- brought a hand to Jim’s waist, a touch as reluctant and inevitable as though it had been drawn by a magnet. Jim’s breath caught somewhere between his lungs and his throat, his lips parted as he watched the subtle lines of Spock’s face change, surprise melting away into something soft, kind, the same sort of fondness captured in that damn photo Jim could never stop himself from staring at. Just when Jim thought he might drown in the emotion in Spock’s eyes, that steady voice he loved so much finally spoke. “Vulcans,” Spock said quietly, “do not participate in the ritual of exchanging rings. I believe it would be more appropriate to simply use the term ‘marry’ to convey--”

Jim’s hold tightened and he pulled Spock forward, leaning up to press his lips to Spock’s, still parted mid-thought. Spock took in a sharp breath through his nose, his fingers clenching into Jim’s shirt in a way that sent an anticipatory strike of lightning through Jim’s nerves. Jim held himself steady against Spock’s warmth, guiding the kiss with his own mouth, molding their lips together and trying to suppress the glee that rose in him when Spock matched his pressure, tilting his head and giving himself to Jim’s lips.

Knees weakening, Jim took far too long to force himself to pull back, knowing if he let himself linger he would never want to part. He met Spock’s eyes as he caught his breath, and felt how tense Spock was under his hands. Jim was sure he had to say something now, was sure there was something to discuss, something to work out. But in a movement that carried with it all the essence of urgency, Spock brought his other hand to Jim’s waist and pulled him back in, flush against his body, lowering himself to Jim again.

Jim let out a breath of surprise, grip tightening on Spock’s arms as Spock fit his lips into the part of Jim’s own, a hard press that almost hurt, but Jim didn’t even care for the half a moment of pain. The second he registered the contact, his hands moved upward to cup Spock’s jaw, angling himself differently so he could run his tongue between Spock’s lips. An embarrassing whine rose in the back of his throat when Spock opened to him, and he pushed himself against Spock’s chest, willing Spock to feel how hard his heart was beating, how much longing had led to this moment.

He leaned up into the kiss, his fingertips curling against Spock’s face, tongue running along the backside of Spock’s teeth as Spock moved against him, arms wrapping around him and holding him so tight Jim thought he might break, and he didn’t even care. Spock’s lips were on his, and it felt as though something had snapped in him, some tension finally breaking, and he couldn’t hold it back anymore. It was a miracle he had so far.

One of Spock’s hands raised itself to Jim’s and took it from his cheek, pressing palm-to-palm against him. Both of them hiked their breath as Jim felt a vibration running through the cords of his muscles, stemming from every atom of contact between them. He hummed into Spock’s mouth, his free hand snaking around to the back of Spock’s head to keep him close, before Spock huffed and pulled away.

“Wait,” Spock said when Jim tried to urge him back down, “Jim, before…” Spock seemed to be trying to collect his thoughts. Jim hardly even heard him, so focused he was on the way Spock’s lips formed the words. Oh, but he wanted to keep kissing. What was Spock doing talking when they could be kissing ? Spock began again, somewhat resolute, breaking the contact of their hands as he tried unsuccessfully (and without much effort) to force some distance between their bodies. “I cannot do this unkindness to Miss Uhura,” he said breathlessly.

Jim paused, his brain trying desperately to reconcile the name of his friend with what he and Spock had just been doing. He couldn’t even begin to understand what doubts had eked their way into Spock’s mind. “Wait, what? Spock, what are you doing thinking of Nyota right now?” He asked with a desperate sort of laugh.

“Are you not--” Spock seemed to wilt slightly, his shoulders falling and his hand tightening around Jim’s lower back. The press of their groins was already a little overwhelming, but the extra pressure sent Jim’s blood straight southward. “You are not a couple.” This was said as a statement rather than a question. But it meant there had been a question.

Jim couldn’t help another laugh, which he hoped conveyed the pure ridiculousness of the idea. He ran a soothing caress up Spock’s side.

“Oh, no. No, not at all . Do you think I’d be here with my tongue down your throat if we were?”

Spock seemed to let out a breath, but returned to Jim’s lips before Jim could be sure, his hand finding Jim’s again and lacing their fingers together. A fresh spike of energy wound up Jim’s arm, traveling along his bloodstream and making his heart pound. Jim mumbled a very unenthusiastic protest into Spock’s mouth, part of him desperate to know where that particular confusion had come from, but he was far more desperate for what Spock was doing now, his hand slipping into Jim’s tunic, his body pressing forward until Jim was forced to step back. Spock walked him backwards, and Jim knew they were heading for the bed sure as he knew they were heading for disaster, but he had completely forgotten why he should care.

“I understand,” Spock managed to say in the brief breaks between their kisses, lips brushing against Jim’s, breath hot on every word. “That we must talk, and yet--”

“Later,” Jim said, fisting his fingers in Spock’s robe and pulling him down as Jim sank onto the bed. Spock laid over him, resting his hands on either side of Jim’s head as he returned to Jim’s lips. While mere minutes ago, eight hours had seemed like a narrow window of time, now it seemed endless. They had eight hours before reality had to catch back up to them. They could spare some time for this, after waiting so long for it.

Jim ran his hands through Spock’s hair, rolling his hips against Spock’s above him, relishing the small breaths Spock released into his mouth. He tried toeing out of his shoes and socks, though it took a few moments distracted as he was, and he ended up smacking his teeth against Spock’s with a flash of discomfort. They pulled away, Jim chuckling as he raised a hand to his mouth, Spock’s eyes alight with the smile he so seldom wore on his lips but always showed in his eyes.

“Get this off,” Jim asked breathlessly, tugging at the robe to distract from the moment, pleased when Spock raised himself on his knees and pulled the robe over his head. Jim brought his hands to Spock’s bare thighs, dragging his gaze from the bulge in Spock’s briefs to the plane of his flat stomach to the wiry hair that spread across his chest, then back up to Spock’s face. Jim may have let out a breathy “wow,” or something equally embarrassing, but his heart was beating too loud to hear his thoughts, let alone his words. Spock tossed his robe somewhere to the side, then returned to Jim’s lips, his hands cupping the sides of Jim’s face.

Jim wound his arms around Spock’s back as their lips moved frantically together, then rolled them over so he was on top, Spock making a small noise through his nose but otherwise giving himself to the change. It took all Jim’s self-control to pull off Spock’s lips again, but finally he did.  “What do you want?” Jim asked, the words coming out a strained whisper, the question he’d meant to ask days ago, phrased the way he’d meant to ask it.

“You,” Spock said without a hint of hesitation or embarrassment, voice deep and igniting, and Jim felt a trill of desire and pure unadulterated joy slip through him. He sank back down to take Spock’s lips, unable to help himself, his hands running up Spock’s chest as he balanced himself better on his knees.

“How?” he forced himself to ask against Spock’s lips, “how do you want me?” And he knew Spock’s answer would be the same as his own.

“However I can have you. However you will have me.”

In every way. Like this. Like their chess matches and garden strolls and talk of the stars. Like lovers and friends and everything in between. Maybe, maybe like husbands too.

Jim took Spock’s hands and pulled them to his lips, laying open-mouthed kisses along his fingers and his knuckles, delighting in the shudder that passed through the body beneath him.

“Then I’m yours,” Jim said, and he knew by the way Spock rose up against him and rolled him once more onto his back, that Spock was his, too. They already belonged to each other, and Jim knew somehow they could find a way to stay together. Suddenly, nothing seemed impossible.

Chapter Text

Nine years ago

 

The prospect of the Terrans’ visit was neither agreeable nor disagreeable to Spock. It simply existed, and he awaited the date with no more anticipation than he awaited any diplomatic duty. It had been a few years since he had last seen the Terran royal family, and if he suffered a little apprehension at their imminent arrival, he did an excellent job pushing it aside.

The cause of this apprehension was, in fact, due entirely to what he had been informed his duties would be, given the nature of the visit. Prince George and Spock’s brother Sybok would be sitting in on diplomatic conversations, learning their future role as kings, and Spock would be relegated to babysitting.

Although the younger Terran prince was now nearly 17, Spock had not forgotten what James had been like as a child, and as a younger teenager. He was energetic and impulsive and, from what Spock understood based on his mother’s contact with Queen Winona, that had not changed. So while ‘babysitting’ may have been a reductive phrase, it felt appropriate.

Even still, the last time Spock had visited Terra, Prince James had been the most hospitable of all of them, shown Spock the stars. And the last time he had seen the royal family on one of the colonies owned by both planets, the 13-year-old had shown a remarkable grasp of political and scientific concepts related to the colony’s projects.

It was likely that, in spite of Prince James’ exuberance, he would have matured, at least somewhat. Even still, Spock had no idea what he would say to the young man or how they would spend their time while their brothers engaged in political discussions. They had never spent time alone before, just the two of them, and Spock admitted to some discomfort at the idea.

Upon the Terrans’ arrival, Prince James and his family greeted the Vulcan royalty with calm and intentional salutes, slight smiles, and genuine courtesy. James managed to keep all of his fine clothing on this time, even after the diplomatic niceties had ceased, and when Spock suggested they spend time in the palace’s reading room while their brothers suffered the brunt of duty, James readily agreed.

Which was how Spock found himself here, seated beside James on a long couch, looking over a few of the scientific journals he followed while Jim read something on his padd, chewing his thumbnail absently.

They had only barely spoken. James had attempted to “catch up” as he said when they’d first sat down, but little had changed in Spock’s life in the last four years. He had few updates, so James had taken up that silence and filled it ceaselessly for about an hour before his steam seemed to run low, and he allowed Spock to catch up on his reading.

Now, Spock could sense James’ restlessness as though it were tangible, evident in the way his leg bounced up and down, the way he continued to run his hand through his hair or crack his knuckles loudly. Spock paid little attention until he felt James’ eyes on him.

He looked up, inquisitive.

“May I help you, Prince James?” he asked dutifully.

“What do you do for fun around here?” James asked, shutting off his padd and setting it to the side. “It’s my first time on Vulcan-- at least that I remember-- I’d hate to spend it all reading.”

“While the concept of ‘fun’ is not entirely translatable to Vulcan custom, we typically spend our free time learning crafts or music, or studying the complexities of our individual scientific endeavors.”

James looked at him blankly. “Do you, oh I don’t know, go outside? I saw some of those rock formations. You can’t tell me you don’t go climbing or hiking or anything.”

Spock set down his own padd. “We do not unless some task requires it. Climbing does not constitute a leisure activity.”

James rolled his eyes. “Of course it doesn’t. What about swimming? It’s so hot here, you’ve got to have a swimming hole or something nearby.”

Spock glanced out the windows of the little reading room, looking out over the red sand of the Forge. It was a beautiful view, and very definitely devoid of water.

“The closest natural body of water is a volcanic lake, eight miles westward across the Forge,” he answered, not even bothering to dignify Jim’s question about swimming with a response.

James let out a sigh. “So reading then?”

“Reading,” Spock confirmed, and he took up his padd again, watching out of the corner of his eye as James reluctantly did the same.

Spock studied him slightly, subtly, noting his broad shoulders and chest, understanding suddenly why he had suggested a physical activity. He was built for such things, and it looked as though he engaged in them often. He had a golden tint to his skin that was absent in his brother, which suggested more time spent outside. Spock felt suddenly slightly guilty that he could not suggest any outdoor activities to suit his human companion. It would be far too hot for many hours to even venture outside.

“Is there a bathroom nearby?” James asked suddenly a few moments later, and Spock looked up from the reading that had once again taken his attention.

“Indeed. Down the hall precisely ten feet and eight inches-- in your units of measurement. On the left.”

James gave him a disbelieving look. “Ten feet and eight inches. What happens if I go nine?”

“Then you will have to step back one inch in order to grasp the door handle comfortably,” Spock said, noting the human’s mocking tone and ignoring it.

James rolled his eyes a little less than respectfully, but stood, tossing his padd onto the couch. “Alright, I’ll be back in a minute then.”

Spock would later forgive himself for failing to notice James’ extended absence. He was rather absorbed in his reading, and the silence without the human’s fidgeting was welcome-- for a time.

But it was when he realized the couch was no longer bouncing due to James’ restless leg and when he realized he hadn’t heard someone sigh or clear their throat in nearly twenty minutes that he started to worry. Well, he wouldn’t say worry. Worry was a human emotion. But he did feel logical trepidation at the idea that James may very well have gotten lost.

Spock went to the bathroom, peeked in and saw no one, then wandered back into the reading room. James had left his bag beside the couch, indicating that he had planned to return, and he had not taken his padd with him.

Thinking back on their earlier conversation, he wondered if he had inadvertently upset the Terran Prince. If perhaps James had tired of his company and gone off to find something, as he said, ‘fun’ to do.

The thought stung slightly, but Spock pushed it aside, taking up James’ padd. It was a violation of privacy, but a missing prince could constitute an emergency. He called up James’ most recent screen.

It was a map of the Forge.

Something sinking into his gut, Spock stood and moved toward the wide windows, scanning the landscape. Though they were many floors up, the day was clear and the Forge was devoid of nearby landmarks. It was not difficult to spot the dot of white in its center, perhaps a mile away.

Spock nearly allowed himself an expression of frustration. The human had gone on a walk. To the lake. In 120 degree weather in an atmosphere not suited to his physiology. Spock turned from the window and made his way swiftly downstairs.

 

The walk toward Jim’s location was unpleasant, even for Spock, as it was midday and uncomfortably hot, but he made haste all the same, and when he finally saw James’ figure slumped in a rare spot of shade beside one of the Forge’s cragged rocks, he nearly allowed himself relief that the young man was still standing.Spock slowed his steps as he approached, noticing James turn his head with a weak smile. “Spock,” he greeted, as though they had been passing each other in the hallway and not as though James were suffering from heat exhaustion. “What are you doing all the way out here?”

“I may ask you the same question.” Spock noticed a bite to his own voice, and acknowledged that it had come from a place of concern. James’ face was flushed, sweat beading along his forehead and the dip of his neck, his smooth hair slightly mussed. He had shed his coat and wore only a thin white tunic, sleeves bunched above his elbows.

“To be honest, I wanted to go for a swim and I thought you might stop me if I told you.”

“Indeed I would have. Are you aware of the danger of crossing the Forge in this heat?”

Spock joined James in the shade, getting a closer look at the young man, whose eyes were cloudy and a little far away. “I am now,” James answered, “and a little embarrassed to tell you the truth.”

Whatever anger had begun to rise in Spock now dissipated, and he let out a breath that could have been a sigh if he had let it become one. “Are you able to walk? We must get you inside and hydrate you immediately.”

“I’m a little wobbly,” James admitted, but he pushed himself off from the rock and moved forward slightly. He was indeed shaking-- tremors beginning in his legs and echoing through his muscles. Spock steeled himself and moved forward.

Taking James by the wrist, he pulled his arm over his shoulder and fit his other arm around James’ waist. James let out a small noise of protest, but did not object otherwise.Spock suspected he would have under other circumstances.

“Come,” Spock said, and began walking them back toward the palace. It would only take about ten minutes, perhaps longer with their slow pace, and Jim would not suffer from heatstroke, but Spock hoped the Terran knew how fortunate he was that Spock had spotted him.

James scoffed, allowing Spock to help him along, leaning heavily against him. He smelled of saline sweat and the remnants of some Terran perfume, and his hair brushed against Spock’s cheek on every faltering step. Spock swallowed, unsure what emotion it was that rose within him.

“You are fortunate I thought to search for you,” Spock said to fill the silence, and to distract himself from the proximity, the skin beneath his fingers.

“My knight in shining armor,” Jim said with a weak laugh. Spock was unfamiliar with the phrase, but he translated it mentally into ‘thank you’ and continued on.

 


 

It was much later that evening that Spock sat in that same reading room, alone once again. Prince James was resting. They’d both received a rather firm talking to from their respective families, and it was safe to say that Spock had failed in his assigned task to babysit the prince.

But even so, he felt a sense of relief that James was not injured, that they had been able to spend time together without contention-- for the most part-- and that, as Jim had said when he’d brought him to the healer, “we’ll look back on this and laugh someday, promise.”

Spock felt something warm spread through his abdomen at the thought and he looked back to the computer screen he had been unenthusiastically reading.

“Computer,” he said suddenly, “define ‘knight in shining armor.’”

The computer worked for a moment, then spoke in a calm, mechanical voice. “Knight in shining armor: an idealized or chivalrous hero who comes to the rescue of someone in a difficult situation, oftentimes a romantic sentiment.”

Spock thought on that for a moment. A romantic sentiment. “Computer, please repeat--”

“Spock?” Spock immediately turned off the screen, head turning to the door where his older brother stood, a knowing glint in his eye. “What are you doing?”

Spock straightened himself up, wondering why he felt as though he had been caught doing something wrong. “Attempting to understand opaque Terran phrases.”

With a small quirk to his lips, Sybok approached. “Any success?”

“Very little,” Spock admitted, looking back to the computer and repeating the definition of James’ phrase in his mind over and over again.

A romantic sentiment. What was he to make of that?

Chapter Text

“So what do you say I just stand up when they ask if anyone objects to the union? Make some romantic declaration?” The warm chest under Jim’s cheek rose and fell with what would have been a sigh if Spock had been any less Vulcan, and the arm around Jim’s shoulder tightened.

“I fear that would be needlessly dramatic,” Spock said, his voice rumbling pleasantly under Jim’s ear, and Jim decided that if he wanted to concentrate on a real solution to their rather unique predicament, it might be wise to move, pull away, find a way to think about something other than the pleasant heat of the sheets around them and the warm satisfaction of afterglow that hadn’t quite faded. But Spock’s arm was heavy and gently possessive, and Jim felt as though he fit perfectly in its hold. He chuckled, his breath causing Spock to shiver deliciously beneath him.

“I was kidding, promise,” he clarified, raising his head to meet Spock’s eyes. They were dark and absorbing, even in the bright white of the room’s lights. A green flush dusted his cheeks and nose, and he was smiling, as much as he ever did. Jim grinned at the sight, hoisting himself up with an elbow on the mattress to get a better look at the man beside him. “Okay,” he said gently, hand coming to rest on Spock’s chest where he’d been laying his head. “Do you have any bright ideas?”

Spock considered that, settling his hand over Jim’s without once taking his eyes from Jim’s face. He looked to be studying him, though not unkindly. “We may postpone the wedding,” Spock suggested.

Jim pulled away fully now, sitting up straight. “Postpone -- Spock, they’ve invited half the quadrant. “If you postpone it now --”

“It would give us time to come up with a more permanent solution,” Spock said, and he sat up, too. The sheets fell in a pool around his waist, but Jim tried to keep his eyes on Spock’s face lest he get distracted again.

“You’d bring down the wrath of two planets and Nyota Uhura over your head if you were to suggest postponing it,” Jim said, tone leaving no room for argument. “Especially this late in the game. No, there has to be a better way.” He paused, pulling his legs up so he sat cross-legged, wishing it were easier to think. In his defense, he never had much luck with thinking after sex. “Okay, how about this,” he said with sudden seriousness, scooting forward and putting a hand on Spock’s thigh. “I put on a fake mustache and we switch me out for Sam. We look almost identical if--”

“Jim,” Spock said, his hand coming to rest over Jim’s. “Postponing the wedding is the only solution. Even if we were to somehow convince both of our families, you would not wish to marry me today. The decision we make now will affect the rest of our lives.”

“I know,” Jim said, and he did , and he wondered that he had made such a mess confessing his own feelings that Spock should doubt them now. “And I want to marry you. Today. I’d marry you right now if I could. Thinking of losing you to Sam --” he paused, hating the way those feelings encroached back over him, the sense of hopelessness and loss that he’d come so close to succumbing to. Those feelings felt so out of place in light of how happy he felt right now. Right here. “Trust me, Spock. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.”

Spock stared at him, and Jim had never once seen a Vulcan look so entirely dumbstruck. In fact, this was the first time that Jim could recall Spock’s humanity shining through so obviously, looking ruffled and confused, naked down to his waist and reeling. “You are serious.” Spock said, and Jim felt a little laugh rise up in him.

“Of course I am,” he said with a grin, rubbing Spock’s thigh as if to prove it through touch in a way he couldn’t in words.

“We have only just discovered our feelings for each other,” Spock reminded him, as if Jim needed reminding of the absolute giddy wonderment of the realization of Spock’s affections. He was still high on it, still floating in a state of disbelief that seemed to undercut how serious this conversation really was.

So Jim opened his mouth to protest, but it died on his lips as he tried to decipher the look on Spock’s face. He forced himself to pause. This was always his problem. He rushed in head-first when he thought what he was doing was right. But he tempered himself now with Spock’s hand over his and Spock’s eyes on him and Spock’s trepidation wavering at the edges of his own mind.

“The thing is, Spock,” Jim said softly, averting his eyes. His gaze fell to the rumpled waves of blankets, and he suddenly felt somewhat silly. “I’ve loved you a lot longer than I think even I know. And I mean it, I’d marry you right now. But if you need more time --”

“I do not,” Spock said without a hint of hesitation. Jim’s eyes snapped back to him.

“You -- you don’t? I thought that's what you were trying to say.”

Spock shook his head, shifting and turning to face Jim. The blanket slipped off his bare thigh, though he didn’t seem to notice or care. Jim was struck then by how strange this felt, only in that it didn’t feel strange at all. It felt comfortable, to be sitting here so intimately with Spock. It felt right.

“Jim,” Spock began, pulling his hands into his lap. “I only wish for your certainty. I have been certain of this for a very long time.” He stopped, taking a breath. Jim wanted to speak, to give voice to the billowing happiness that was rising in him at that admission, but Spock wasn’t finished. “You asked me once,” Spock began again, the words almost reluctant on his lips, “where I would be in another life.”

For a moment, Jim struggled to keep up with what felt like a shift in topic, but the memory came rushing back to him, and he felt a smile tic his lips.

“On the bridge,” he said, “that’s right. You never answered, did you?”

Spock shook his head, his eyes falling, and Jim moved his hand to Spock’s knee. There was something heavy in Spock’s expression. “I did not.”

“Have … have you been thinking about it?” Jim asked, wondering what bearing this had on the conversation they had been having, but knowing Spock well enough to know that it was important. Spock never wasted his words on anything that wasn’t important.

“I did not need to think about it,” Spock said, and Jim watched his lips tighten in a kind of humorless half-smile. “Though I would not have told you the truth at the time, I knew immediately what my answer may be.”

Jim waited, rubbing his thumb along Spock’s knee, waiting for those eyes to meet his once again. When they did, they had a hard light of determination in them. Or, perhaps, Jim simply felt the determination in Spock -- the tensing of his muscles under Jim’s hand, the straight line of his back. “In that moment,” Spock continued, “I envisioned ‘another life,’ and saw only you. At my side. In another life, I knew I wanted to be with you. I did not believe it would be possible in this one.”

Jim’s heartbeat tripped over itself, stuttering in his chest as he felt his fingers curling into Spock’s skin. His breath felt short and he thought back to that moment on the bridge, the way Spock had looked in that photo, the warmth Jim had felt beside him in spite of the chill that had gripped the ocean air. All this time. All this time Spock had loved him too.

“It can happen in this life,” Jim heard himself saying. “Today. If that’s what you want.”

“I do not know how,” Spock admitted, and he laid his hand over Jim’s once again, fitting his fingers into Jim’s and gripping tight.

Jim didn’t know either. But he had to try. They had to try.

“I need to go to Sam,” Jim heard himself saying, making the decision even as the words left his lips. “I need to tell him.” He forced himself to pull his hand from Spock’s, tossing the sheets off his lap and shuffling to the edge of the bed.

“You are sure that is the best course of action?” Spock asked, and Jim tried not to turn at the sound of his voice. He would never be able to leave if he fell back into the trap of Spock’s eyes, Spock’s arms, Spock’s bed.

“No,” Jim said, casting around for his clothes, most of which had been tossed off rather quickly when they’d tumbled onto the bed. He stepped onto the carpet and knelt for his underwear. “But it’s the only course of action I can think of. We aren’t going to be able to do this alone.”

“Will he help?”

Jim did look back then, seeing Spock sitting there watching him, concern etched into his features.

“I think so,” Jim said, hobbling into his underwear before taking up his shirt and slipping it over his head. “He doesn’t want to marry you. If we can offer him a way out…”

“Jim,” Spock said, tone gentle as he, too, began to move. He scooted to the foot of the bed where Jim stood, and he looked up to him. “We cannot offer him a way out.”

“Not yet,” Jim said, shuffling into his trousers. He tried for a reassuring smile as he buttoned them around his waist. “But we’ll think of something. I promise.”

Spock raised a skeptical eyebrow, and Jim felt himself laughing, if only to release some of his own fears. He moved to stand between Spock’s legs, resting his hands on Spock’s shoulders. “I promise,” he repeated, and leaned down. It said something that Spock did not hesitate to tilt his head back, to meet Jim’s kiss, to raise a hand to the back of Jim’s head and thread his gentle fingers through Jim’s hair. Jim sighed against his lips, closing his eyes and thinking he would do anything for a lifetime of kisses like this. The kind of kisses that sent sparks shooting down his spine with just the barest graze of lips and tongue.

When Jim pulled away, Spock’s features had softened. “Would you like me to be there with you?” Spock asked, rising to his feet. He brought his hands to Jim’s arms, a soothing touch.

Jim thought about it, wondering if this conversation would be easier with Spock at his side. Everything would be easier with Spock at his side, he knew, but if he wanted to be with Spock he would need to do some things alone.

“No,” Jim decided, lifting a hand to cup Spock’s jaw. “I need to do this. To explain a few things, make a few apologies. But if you can talk to your family …” He left it hanging. If Spock could talk to his family -- what did Jim expect him to say?

“I will,” Spock said, turning so his lips brushed against Jim’s palm, his eyes closing.

“Do you want me to be there with you?” Jim asked, echoing Spock’s offer. And he was glad he had thought to do so when Spock didn’t hesitate to reply.

“Yes,” Spock said. “I do not believe it would be wise to confront my father with this until we have discussed options with your brother.”

“Alright,” Jim said, nodding. “You stay here then. I’ll be back as soon as I can. What’s our time frame?”

“We have precisely 6.35 hours before I must stand at the altar.”

Jim smiled, grazing his thumb along Spock’s lips, hoping now that Spock could see the determination in his own eyes. “6.35 hours before I’m standing up there with you,” Jim said, a promise. Spock let out a little breath, closing his eyes and leaning in, resting his forehead against Jim’s.

Nudging their noses together, Jim breathed in Spock’s breath, finding something steady and solid in the promise of Spock’s presence. Spock’s hand found his own, and the buzz of contact between their fingers ignited him with renewed energy. He could do this. They could do this.

They could do anything.

“I will await your return,” Spock said gently, and Jim swallowed, vowing that he wouldn’t make Spock wait any longer than he had to. In spite of how quickly it had all happened, somehow t felt as though they’d been waiting so long already.

 


 

The servants would be stirring soon, Jim thought, standing outside Sam’s door with his hand hard on the call button. He’d pressed it five, six, seven times, and now held it down with one hard thumb, his heart racing. At first he’d thought Sam was asleep. Then, he’d thought Sam must be ignoring him. Only now was he starting to grow worried.

Tall windows lining the hall laid the dark blue glow of morning along the thick running rug, grills casting shadows like prison bars over the walls, and Jim knew that as soon as that light began to brighten that the palace would wake up in preparation for the day, the royal wedding.

Jim gave up on the button and pounded the door with his fist. “Sam,” he said loudly, “if you’re in there, you need to open up, okay? I’m ten seconds away from hacking the door controls.” There was no answer, so Jim pounded again. “Sam, I mean it!” Nothing.

With a sigh, Jim glanced down the hallway in both directions and steeled himself, fitting his fingers into the panel on the wall and tugging. “That’s it,” he called, “I’m --augh -- I’m breaking open the door right, unf, now -- and when I get in there I swear--” the door swished open before Jim could even manage to tug the panel off, and Sam stood framed in the doorway, a shadow with the morning light behind him. Jim stepped back, rubbing his fingertips, grateful Sam had come out of his own volition. He would have had to run off to grab tools from god knew where if he were really going to follow through with his threat.

“Damn it, Jim,”  Sam said, voice heavy with something weary and sad and dissatisfied, “what do you want?” Sam was dressed already -- or perhaps still dressed from the night before, with deep bags under his eyes. Jim felt a rush of pity for him, but more than that, he felt a solid wave of relief. Sam hadn’t run away, at least.

“We need to talk,” Jim said, “right now.” Sam rolled his eyes, taking in a breath as if for patience.

“I don’t want to talk, Jim,” Sam said. “I have about four hours before I have to start thinking about this wedding, and I’d like to savor every moment of it, if I can.”

Shaking his head, Jim sighed. “Sorry,” he said, “but you have to start thinking about it now. Can I please come in?”

Sam’s eyes turned hard and he squared his shoulders in the doorway. “No,” he said. “I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say I need to treat Spock right, that I need to stop seeing Aurelan--”

“Sam, keep your voice down--”

“--and that I need to suck it up and do my duty, and frankly,” Sam said, raising a finger as his voice climbed in volume, and Jim tried to hush him, glancing once again down the hallway, “I’m sick of hearing it. I know it all already, and--”

“I’m in love with Spock,” Jim hissed, and Sam’s tirade seemed to lose its steam in an instant, his hand falling, his eyes widening like full moons. He opened his mouth, closed it again, then stepped aside, offering Jim entry as though he didn’t know what else to do.

With a breath of relief, Jim shouldered past his brother, rubbing his forehead where an ache was beginning to pound. He hadn’t slept at all, and he was grateful for the adrenaline that was pumping through his veins or he would have taken one look at Sam’s bed and collapsed into it. Instead, he turned around when he got to the center of the massive room, watching as Sam closed the door and turned himself.

“You’re in love with Spock,” Sam repeated flatly. And Jim swallowed.

“I am,” he said. “And it turns out--” he felt something bubbling up in his chest and forced it back down. Now was not the time. “It turns out he loves me too. We want to get married. Today.”

Sam’s whole body stiffened, his lips parting in some kind of confused disbelief, his brows knitting in what looked like anger, outrage, maybe frustration.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Sam said. “All that bullshit you’ve been spouting about my ‘duty’ -- that lecture you gave me about Aurelan? You absolute hypocrite , I--”

“I know,” Jim said, holding up his hands. “I know, and I’m so sorry. That’s why I came here alone; I wanted to apologize.” The wind seemed to leave Sam’s sails, though his eyes were still narrowed dangerously. Jim took a few steps toward him. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “All this time, I kept telling you that it didn’t matter if you loved him or not but, Sam,” Jim paused just before his brother, his arms out, entreating. “Sam, love is the most important thing in the universe. And I’m sorry it took falling in love myself to understand that. In the end, I couldn’t do my duty either, and all I had to do was keep my mouth shut. You’re a lot stronger than I am.”

Sam pressed his lips together, taking a deep breath through his nose. “How long has this been going on?” he asked, a sharp edge to his voice.

Jim glanced at the chrono on the wall, feeling his lips tick up in a tired and placating kind of smile. “About two hours,” he admitted. “I mean, the feelings have been there a while, but I didn’t know about Spock until this morning.”

Arms crossed over his chest, Sam appraised him, but something tense in his shoulders loosened somewhat. “I kind of assumed, you know,” he said, voice as quiet as the breeze that ruffled the curtains.

“You -- you what?”

“I didn’t know it was love,” Sam clarified, “but I knew you cared about him. I probably should have seen this coming, honestly. Only way I ever made the guy smile was by talking about you.” He moved then, rather suddenly, brushing past Jim and heading toward the seating area by the empty fireplace. He settled with a tired flop into one of the overstuffed blue armchairs, gesturing for Jim to take the other. Jim hesitated for a moment before following, taking the offered chair and almost sighing at the feeling of the cushions cradling him. Oh, but that exhaustion was catching up to him now.

“So you want to get married,” Sam said, and Jim looked to him, taking in the wry smile on his lips. “Any idea how that’s going to work? Nothing’s changed, Jim. Not really.”

Jim rested his hands in his lap, examining his fingers, wishing suddenly that Spock had come with him after all. Jim wanted to tell his brother, to show his brother, that everything had changed. The entire universe had shifted when he and Spock had kissed. He wondered that no one else had felt it happen.

“Well, Sam,” he said, “from where I’m standing a lot has changed. Instead of two unwilling princes being forced to tie the knot, we have two incredibly willing princes asking for the opportunity to. All that’s in our way is that Vulcan obsession with hierarchy.”

“It’s not an obsession, Jim,” Sam said, “it’s logical. You said as much yourself, didn’t you? It’s logical to have a Vulcan ruling on Terra. How are they going to do that if their only other son marries an admiral?”

Jim thinned his lips. “I don’t know,” he said, “but you don’t want to marry him.”

“I never have,” Sam said, “and I don’t see why that suddenly matters now. We’re in the same boat we’ve always been in. We don’t make decisions, you and me. You don’t get to decide if you join Starfleet, or if you actually get to go out into space. I don’t get to decide who I marry or whether or not I become king. They plan these things without us, Jim, and we--”

“Wait,” Jim said, the rest of Sam’s sentence falling away as one word threw itself into startling clarity, as though lit by neon, shouted through a loudspeaker. “Wait, what did you say?”

“That our parents plan things without us?” Sam asked, brows knit.

“No, not that. About being king.”

Sam paused, thinking back over his words while Jim’s heart began to pound painfully in his chest. An idea was blooming in him, and he waited with breath frozen in his lungs for the same idea to bloom in his brother.

“I don’t get to decide whether or not I become king,” Sam said with the voice of someone far away, mind on everything but what he was saying.

“Sam, do you … do you want to be king?”

No one had ever asked, Jim realized. The thought had occurred to him before, but it had been passing, fleeting, something he couldn’t change so there was no point dwelling on it. No one had ever asked if Sam wanted to be king. Maybe Sam had never even asked himself.

Sam’s eyes widened, his chest rising and falling. The wind outside blew a chill into the room, and finally Sam turned his eyes toward Jim with something alight in them. “No,” he said slowly. “No, I’ve never wanted to be king. I mean, you know that. I want to study and marry Aurelan and --” he paused once more.

Hands on his knees, Sam shoved himself to his feet, pacing toward the center of the room. He began to tug at his mustache absently as Jim watched his hands shaking, realizing only then that his own hands were shaking too.

Turning, Sam settled his eyes on Jim, hard, and Jim swallowed under the scrutiny. He thought he knew what Sam was about to ask even before the words left his lips. “Jim, do you want to be king?”

And Jim’s mind flooded in an instant with years of contained envy, with the little half-formed jealousies that slipped into his thoughts when he waved Sam goodbye in the hangar or received messages from him at diplomatic functions on the planets of new allies. And he thought of where Sam had stood at the head of the table beside Spock, announcing their wedding, when Jim had wanted more than anything in the world to stand where Sam stood.

They stared at each other in silence for a long while, before Jim finally looked out the window once more. The sky was yellowing at its edges, gilded, and if he went to the balcony he knew he would see the dias and chuppah set up for the day’s nuptials just past the garden. Suddenly it all felt very, very far away.

 


 

“I need to get back to Spock,” Jim said as he matched Sam’s long strides down the hallway. They moved in and out of the shadows between windows so quickly Jim felt as though they were walking through strobe lights. “His dad and brother will be there soon to help him get ready and I promised--”

“I know,” Sam said, but he made no move to turn down the Vulcan wing. Instead, he led Jim onward toward the hall that hosted the rooms of lower-level courtiers. “But you know we’re going to need her help.”

Jim knew that much very well. In fact, he had been the one to suggest it, but needing Nyota’s help and actually begging for it were two very different things. He didn’t know if he had the strength to face her on the day of the biggest event of her career, to tell her he’d ruined everything after promising to do nothing.

As they passed the corridor to the palace’s yawning foyer, Jim heard the tell-tale bustle of servants, the clatter of dollies piled high with chairs, the puff and fwoosh of cloth tossed over tables, the chattering of voices giving directions. They passed only a few of these servants themselves, each carrying armfuls of flowers or ribbons, and Jim noticed Sam attempting to avoid their eyes as Jim did the same. Still, they drew stares, whether due to their obvious urgency or the fact that both of them were supposed to be getting ready, he didn’t know.

When they made it to Nyota’s rooms, Jim was the one to press the call for the door, knowing if he put it off he might second-guess involving her at all. But Nyota needed to know, and they needed her insight. None of them could anticipate the Vulcans’ reactions like she could.

The door flew open to reveal what looked to be a shadowed, exhausted caricature of their cultural adviser. Her eyes were heavy-lidded, her hair wreathing her face like a glorious, curly sunburst. She wore a shirt that looked at least three sizes too big for her and puffy pink pajama pants that were almost obscenely cute. The look didn’t quite suit. At the sight of them, she straightened, attempting to flatten her hair, though it was clearly a wasted effort.

“Ah, your highnesses,” she addressed, giving Jim a more pointed look than the one she gave to Sam. “Is everything alright?”

Jim glanced to his brother, then to his best friend. “Can we come in?” he asked. Down the hall, he heard voices talking back and forth in casual conversation, and he didn’t want to be out here long enough for any courtiers to see them.

“I-- of course,” Nyota said, stepping aside. They both entered, and Jim thought he could almost feel Sam’s nerves. Though he supposed he may have been projecting his own.

“Okay,” she said when the door closed. Then, once again: “Is -- is everything alright?”

“Fine,” Jim blurted before he could stop himself. “Great, actually. How, ah… how are you?”

Nyota raised an eyebrow at him, then turned to Sam. “Your highness?” she asked, clearly having nothing of Jim’s small talk. It was probably for the best.

“I’m abdicating the throne,” Sam said, and even Jim turned to him in surprise, his neck cracking with the speed of his shock. Of course he knew that was the plan, but for Sam to just drop that bomb on poor Nyota, still recovering from sleep...

She stood stock still in her slippers, hands stiff at her sides. As if she hadn’t heard, she tilted her head forward. “You’re -- I’m sorry. You’re what?”

“I’m abdicating the throne,” Sam repeated, something like relief in his small smile. “Jim’s going to marry Spock and become king, and we need to know if the Vulcans are going to kill us over this.”

Nyota took a deep breath, her eyes wide as pure turmoil spread over her features. Jim saw, flashing behind her eyes, the weeks of careful preparation, the caterers, the florists, the decorations and the exhaustive list of invitations. And he saw it all going up in flames inside her.  “Okay,” she squeaked out, though it was not in agreement. It was as though she were steadying herself. “Alright, let’s -- let’s talk this through rationally. Sam, you’ve had the crown ahead of you for thirty years. You can’t just drop it now. I know you don’t want to get married, but this is -- this is drastic. And Jim,” she turned to him, a familiar pity sneaking into her expression. “ Jim, what has gotten into you? You can’t marry Spock.”

“Why not?” he asked, raising up his hands and flopping them at his sides. “I love him. You know that.”

“I know,” she said, striding forward and resting a hand on his arm. “But Jim, sweetie, a loveless marriage is one thing. But if you love him and he doesn’t love you -- that would kill you.”

Jim rested his hand over her’s, wrestling back a smile. “It would,” he agreed, squeezing her fingers tight. “If he didn’t feel the same.” It took her a moment to process this, her mind working faster than should have been expected before five in the morning. But when it caught up to her, her mouth fell open.

“He -- wait -- Jim!” She smacked him hard on the arm, a smile breaking over her face. Before Jim could complain over the force of the punch, which would almost definitely leave a bruise, she threw her arms around him and Sam took a swift step back so as to avoid a flying elbow. Jim, caught off-guard for a moment, didn’t even realize he was smiling until his hands had found Nyota’s back and he began patting her gently, some tension bleeding from him. “I can’t even be mad at you,” she complained into his shoulder, squeezing him tight. “I’m so happy for you, you absolute jerk.”

With a laugh, he pulled her away, meeting her eyes. “Thank you, Nyota.”

“But, Jim, the crown -- are you sure you want this?” When Sam opened his mouth to speak, she lifted a hand to him, eyes trained on Jim’s as if searching him for hesitation. “No, Sam,” she said, and Jim wondered that she was so tired she was past formality even with the crown prince. “I want to hear this from Jim.”

Jim took a breath. He’d had less than a half hour to process the decision, but he’d considered a thousand angles in that short time. It was a terrifying prospect, so much power and responsibility he wasn’t sure he deserved. But it felt right. Like so many decisions he had made today. It felt right.

“I’m sure,” he said, and Nyota seemed to wilt. “So will you help us?” Jim asked, the urgency returning to him.

For a moment, Nyota pulled back and simply stared at them both, and Jim guessed she was going over more objections in her mind. And, it seemed, dismissing each of them. “Alright,” she finally said, “what do you need?”

“We need to talk to the Vulcans, get Spock up to speed --”

“Call Aurelan,” Sam put in, and Jim looked to him. Sam shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “This affects her as much as it does me. I want her here.”

“I’ll call her, your highness,” Nyota said, turning away and half jogging to her closet. When it swished open she began flicking through the dresses, seemingly ignoring Jim’s dumbstruck look.

“Wait, Nyota, did you -- did you know about Aurelan too?”

She glanced over her shoulder, somewhat sheepishly, then looked back to her task. “I found out a while ago,” she said, and Jim turned to Sam with a look he knew could shoot daggers. Sam at least had the decency to look contrite. “Prince George and I,” Nyota continued, “have had many conversations on the subject of Miss Jira.” Jim took from her tone that those conversations had been much the same as the conversation that Jim had had with Sam about ‘Miss Jira.’ It eased his ire a little to know Nyota had been trying to talk sense into Sam too, though it smacked him with a new wave of guilt that she was now on a much higher moral ground to do so than Jim was.

“Okay,” Jim said as Nyota pulled a plastic-wrapped dress from the closet, rushing over to her bed and tossing it onto the mattress. She stepped out of her slippers. “So you’re going to call Aurelan. What should we do about the Vulcans?”

Nyota waved her hand for both of them to turn their backs as she pulled the shirt over her head. They wheeled hastily around, exchanging a look. “Does Spock know about this abdication?” she asked from behind them, and Jim shook his head.

“Not yet, we just now figured it out.”

“Then that’s the first thing you need to do. Go talk to Spock and I’ll meet you there as soon as I’m presentable and Aurelan’s on her way.” Beside Jim, Sam gave a relieved little smile, looking up at the ceiling as if in thanks. “Once we’re all on the same page, I think the next step will be talking to King George and Queen Winona. We’re going to need strength in numbers, and we’re sure as hell not going to get initial support from the Vulcans.”

“Maybe Sybok,” Jim offered, “though he might only support us for the sake of drama.”

Nyota snorted and Jim heard the teeth of a zipper closing, “Maybe Sybok,” she agreed, “but he also might blab to his parents for the sake of the drama. Let’s take this a step at a time.”

Nyota surprised Jim with a hand on his shoulder, turning him around. She had slipped on a glittering gold gown, obviously her attire for the wedding, which looked far more her style than the pajama pants had been, though it was falling off a shoulder and she hadn’t yet tugged it straight. He smiled at the look on her face, something tense with focus but not unhappy. “What a wedding this will be,” she said with a tight smile, squeezing Jim’s shoulder. Then she looked to Sam. “You two hurry. I’ll be right there.”

They nodded in unison, and Jim gave her hand a squeeze. “Thank you, Nyota,” he said again, willing her to know how much he meant it. “I owe you.”

She laughed, rubbing her head. “I’ll take a raise when you’re king, how about that? And maybe an honorary title?”

“Done,” Jim said, a laugh in his own words. “See you soon, Lady Uhura.”

She grinned, looking far too pleased with herself, and shoved both of them forward. “Stop wasting time,” she said, though there was no bite to the words. “You’ve got a fiance to take care of.”

Fiance, Jim thought with a wave of disbelief. And soon, husband. If it worked out. If it all worked out.

 


 

It had been less than two hours, and still the sight of Spock standing in the doorway felt as hopeful and welcome as the first crest of sunrise after a long night, though that may have been an effect of the rosegold light pouring in through the windows behind him. He looked like those old paintings of angels, surrounded by sun, and Jim’s heart stopped at the sight of him.

“Hey, sweetheart,” he managed to say, and Spock -- whose face had been set in stone when the door had first opened -- softened, a flush spreading over his cheeks that he hid by stepping to the side.

“Hello, Prince James, Prince George,” Spock greeted with forced formality, and Jim nearly laughed at how alien his title sounded on Spock’s lips now, after it had been normal for so long.

Sam met Jim’s eyes with a look Jim couldn’t decipher and stepped in, Jim following rapidly behind. When the door closed, Jim immediately found Spock’s sleeve, fingers curling into the fabric. “Spock--” he began, but Spock silenced him with a hand over his own.

“Before you speak I must inform you that my parents are on their way,” Spock said, and Jim’s eyes widened. He shot a look at Sam over his shoulder, who was standing stiff and shocked by the window.

“They’re what?” Sam asked, echoing Jim’s sentiments rather perfectly. “But we haven’t talked to Nyota about what to say yet! And our parents don’t even know, and Aurelan--”

“I am aware,” Spock said, and he tugged Jim farther into the room. “The servants have apparently been whispering about the Terran princes running through the halls of the palace. One overheard a conversation that seemed to insinuate an affair. My parents are concerned.”

Jim swallowed, glancing back at Sam. He’d told him to keep his damn voice down, but in Sam’s defense there shouldn’t have been any servants around so early.

Then again, it was a wedding day. He shouldn’t have been surprised they’d gotten an early start. Instead of chastising his brother, circumstances being unchangeable as they were, Jim turned back to Spock. The man he loved. The man he was going to marry today come hell or high water. “Well then we’ll tell them the truth. We have a plan, Spock.” Spock’s eyebrow shot into his hairline and Jim laughed nervously, shrugging. “Okay, kind of a plan. I’m -- I’m going to be king,” he said. “Sam’s giving up the throne.”

Spock’s eyes shot from Jim to Sam then back again, and Jim felt something like excitement through the contact of their skin. “Is this what you want, ashayam?”

Jim looked down to his hand around Spock’s sleeve. He didn’t know that word, but it felt like ‘sweetheart,’ like something warm and loving and reserved just for him. “Yes,” he said. “It’s -- it’s one of those ‘another life’ things, isn’t it? I always thought in another life I could be king, maybe a good king, but I never thought it would happen in this one. And now … Spock if I do this there won’t be anything standing in our way.”

“Aside from narrow-minded Vulcan traditionalism,” Sam offered from the window, and both Jim and Spock looked to him. “They could still consider this whole mess 'illogical.' No offense.”

Spock’s lips thinned, and he seemed to shift minutely closer to Jim. “There can be no offense where none is taken,” he said. Jim once again felt gratitude that Spock was more patient with his brother than even Jim himself could be.

Just as Jim opened his mouth to speak, the door buzzed, and Spock released Jim as though he had been burned by the touch, stepping back at once. Jim tried not to give into the sting of hurt. It was logical for Spock to step back, at least until they’d talked to the Vulcans. Finding their son in the arms of the wrong prince might cause some concern right off the bat.

But when Spock moved to the door and commanded it open, it was Nyota, not the Vulcans, who stood outside. She looked resplendent, her makeup done as artfully as if she’d spent hours in front of the mirror, her hair smoothed back and clipped into its usual pomp, eyes bright and awake as if she hadn’t been woken up mere minutes ago by the Terran princes. Jim marveled that she had managed to pull herself together so quickly. Jim hadn’t managed to pull himself together in twenty-six years. She bowed the moment the door opened fully.

“Prince Spock,” she said as she rose, and Spock nodded to her, stepping out of her way so she could enter.

“Miss Uhura,” he said, glancing to Jim. “I understand you are here to assist us?”

The door swished shut and she nodded, a smile on her red lips. “And I understand congratulations are in order,” she said. “As well as apologies. If I had realized how you felt about Jim earlier--”

Spock held up a hand, shaking his head. “Apologies are unnecessary. I have worked very hard to suppress this particular emotion. If you had recognized it sooner, I would be a very poor Vulcan indeed. However, we may very well need your help now.”

She gave him a grateful tilt of her head, then looked to Jim with something warm in her expression. Jim’s chest swelled, hoping Nyota knew how very desperately he loved her for this. For everything. “That’s why I’m here,” she said. “I think--”

But as she spoke, a chirp echoed through the room, and they all glanced around to each other. Nyota looked to her chest and pulled a communicator from her bra, flicking it open. “Uhura here,” she said.

“Nyota, darling.” It was the voice of Queen Winona crackling over the speaker, sounding elegantly panicked. “We can’t find Sam or Jim, and the servants say they were spotted running toward your wing. Do you know where they are?”

Nyota raised her eyes to the room at large, and Jim looked to Spock, swallowing. “In Spock’s rooms,” Nyota said, and Jim widened his eyes at her, opening his arms to eclipse the rather uncomfortable situation they were about to be in if she invited the Terran royalty, too. But she didn’t know that Sarek and Amanda were on the way. “You should join us,” she said, giving Jim a confused and frustrated little shrug when he violently shook his head at her.

The door command buzzed and Jim slapped a hand to his face, looking to Spock in horror.

“Ah, we’ll see you in a moment, your majesties,” Nyota finished quickly, snapping her communicator shut and stuffing it back into her dress. “Who is that? Aurelan can’t have gotten here that quickly.”

“Spock’s parents,” Jim groaned, quietly lest they hear him through the door. “I was trying to tell you they were on their way.”

Her eyes widened as the door buzzed again. Holding her hands out to steady herself, she took a breath, nodded. “Alright, this is fine. I guess we’ll just have to try to convince all four monarchs at once. No big deal.” Jim gave her a look that he hoped conveyed how big a deal it seemed to be, but she just met his stare. “It’s going to be okay, Jim.”

She moved then to join Sam by the window, and beckoned for Jim to join her. “Come on,” she said, “it’ll be less intimidating if you stand over here.” Jim looked to Spock instead.

“Where do you want me?” he asked Spock, whose hand hovered over the door controls. The door buzzed again, and Spock met his eyes, his posture rigid and angular, more Vulcan that he’d looked all morning.

“At my side,” Spock replied, and Jim took a breath through his nose, casting an apologetic look to Nyota, who seemed nervous beside an almost infuriatingly calm Sam. But Jim’s nerves were beginning to abate, too, some kind of intentional tranquility seeping into him, and he stepped pointedly to the side, ready to join Spock against whatever tide awaited them.

Spock steeled his shoulders and opened the door.

Outside, Sarek and Amanda stood straight and tall, only a tic of worry on Amanda’s face. “Spock,” Amanda greeted, just as her eyes flicked into the room at large, “Ah, Prince -- Prince George, Prince James, Miss Nyota.” There was a question attached to each of their names, and Jim found he didn’t quite know how to answer it.

So he felt himself raising the ta’al out of diplomatic reflex when Sarek’s eyes fell on him. “Good morning, your majesties” he said just as the door closed behind them.

“Good … morning,” Amanda tested, looking around. “My -- what are you all doing here? Spock, Prince George, you aren’t supposed to see each other before the wedding.”

Nyota stepped forward, raising her chin. “Your majesties,” she said in greeting. “We are obliged to inform you that circumstances surrounding today’s wedding have changed.”

Silence settled for a moment, and Sarek lifted his chin slightly, staring Nyota down as if she were an angry bull. But she stood tall under the scrutiny, meeting his eyes. Jim shifted closer to Spock while the king’s attention was elsewhere, attempting to offer some comfort to his lover. Spock was still as a statue beside him, hands tight behind his back.

“Circumstances,” Sarek repeated after a time. “Would you care to enlighten us, Miss Uhura?”

Nyota glanced to Sam beside her, then to Jim. “With all due respect,” she said, “King George and Queen Winona are on their way. I believe we should wait until--”

The door buzzed again, an incredibly unwelcome sound, and Jim wondered if the tension in the room could pull any tighter before it snapped. Spock moved from his side once more, edging toward the door and commanding it open with almost palpable reluctance.

King George, Queen Winona and -- and a thoroughly ruffled-looking Aurelan Jira stood just outside, trading looks with each other before glancing into the room. Spock made space for them to come in, and Jim was thankful Nyota had thought to set the Vulcans up with large accommodations. Sarek and Amanda moved toward the edge of the room while the Terrans made their way inside. George and Winona looked gobsmacked by the assembled company, pausing just inside the door. “King Sarek, Queen Amanda,” George greeted, and it sounded like a reflex too. He then looked pointedly to Nyota, asking a silent question that she did not answer right away.

Instead, Aurelan drew the room’s attention, bowing to each of the royals in attendance before looking nervously at Sam, who gave her a reassuring smile. “Your majesties,” she said, “Your highnesses. I apologize for my intrusion. I -- as I was just saying to King George and Queen Winona, I was invited.” She tacked that last part on hastily, and Nyota moved forward, resting a hand on Aurelan’s shoulder and guiding her toward the window where Sam stood still.

“She was,” Nyota promised, releasing Aurelan as she regained her previous position. “Miss Jira has as much stake in this as anyone.”

It was clear by the way Aurelan and Sam stood that they were trying not to touch each other, the purpose for their avoidance as blatant as if they had run into each other’s arms. Jim swallowed as Spock moved back toward him, and he wondered if they gave off the same impression. Forbidden lovers reunited. He suppressed the urge to reach out, take Spock’s hand, touch him at all, but he made sure to stand as close as he could without contact.

“I may ask again,” Sarek said. “What circumstances must we be aware of?”

George and Winona looked to each other, eyes wide. And everyone who knew of the ‘circumstances’ -- Sam, Jim, Nyota and Spock -- traded looks as though hoping someone else might speak first. Which of them was the logical choice? If only they’d had time to talk it through.

But, if Jim were to be king, he supposed it would be appropriate for him to start his diplomatic career on a strong note. “Your majesties,” he said, addressing both the Vulcan royalty and his own parents. “A few months ago, we all went to see a group of Shakespearean players, do you remember?”

Every eyebrow in the room went up simultaneously, and Jim suddenly questioned his tactics. He supposed it did seem like a non-sequitur, but he had a point. Somewhere in there. “Ah,” he said, fumbling slightly. “It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, if you remember. Couples trading off affections --”

“I remember the play,” Sarek interrupted calmly, and Jim nodded.

“Of course, well. Think of this whole situation as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We’re in the final act, and I think -- I think it’s time we all woke up. Things may have changed, but it should come as some assurance that there will still be a wedding today.”

And Jim thought as Spock took a deep breath beside him that whatever reality awaited him outside this dream, it would be better. Infinitely better. Because Spock would be his. That was how the play ended, right? The happy couples free to love at last. He only hoped this play might end the same.

King George drew up his shoulders. “James,” he said, “I like Shakespeare as much as the next man, and I’m certainly glad you’re at least referencing a comedy, but I have no desire to live it. Will you please speak plainly?”

There was silence again for a moment, but just as Jim opened his mouth to speak, Spock spoke up. “I will not marry Prince George today,” Spock said, his voice shocking Jim with its pure, calm surety. Winona gasped as Amanda grabbed her hand. Aurelan traded a look with Sam and Sarek stood a single stone in the center of the pond, unmoving.

“And I won’t marry Prince Spock,” Sam said, tilting up his chin. Ironically, with his straight set shoulders and the determined set to his brow, he looked like royalty for the first time in his life.

“Boys,” George entreated, holding out his hands to the room, as Sam and Spock could not have been standing farther apart. “We know you aren’t entirely enthused about the match, but years of negotiation--”

“Years of negotiation have decided,” Spock interrupted, “that I should marry the crown prince. I do not believe either of us were given a great deal of choice.”

“So we made a choice anyway,” Jim said, giving Spock a little smile. “Whether or not any was given.”

“We?” Sarek echoed, and Jim thought he saw the light of understanding finally dawning in the Vulcan king’s eyes. “And may I ask what you have to do with this, Prince James?”

Jim drew himself up to his full height. “I am going to marry your son,” he said with all the certainty he could muster. “And I am going to become king of Terra. You still get Spock on the throne, and neither my brother nor the man I love have to suffer for it. I think it’s a pretty adequate compromise, don’t you?”

The whole room seemed suspended at the apex of a curve for a moment, hanging in utter silence with anticipation or confusion or comprehension, tension. Even the birds outside seemed to stop chirping, the air hanging stiff around them. Until all at once gravity seemed to catch up to them, the implications of Jim’s words crashing down. George sputtered, Winona’s mouth fell open. Amanda turned to Sarek with wide eyes and Aurelan grabbed Sam’s hand and squeezed it tight, a smile spreading over her lips as Sam grinned in response.

“What is happening?” George asked in outrage, glancing around them. “We were not informed of any of this-- King Sarek, Queen Amanda, I assure you, we had no idea.”

“We just decided,” Sam said. “I don’t want to be king. I’ve never wanted to be king, and I’d be terrible at it. Jim--”

Jim hasn’t been trained for the throne since birth,” George reminded Sam harshly, raising a thick finger, his face reddening. Winona put a hand on his shoulder to calm him.

“I’m willing to work for it,” Jim said. “And I want this. I want to be with Spock. I want Sam to be with Aurelan.”

“Nyota,” Winona said sharply, though there wasn’t anger in her voice, simply a hard edge of nerves. “Nyota, have you facilitated this? You can’t honestly agree with Sam’s choice to give up the throne.”

Nyota’s eyes flicked around the room, passing over Sam and Aurelan, then settling on Jim and Spock. When her eyes met Jim’s, they softened. “I think it’s the only way my best friend gets to marry the man he loves,” she said, “and, more practically, I do think it’s a sound decision for Terra. Prince James is a natural leader.”

“And for Vulcan?” Sarek asked, his voice so calm it felt as though someone had slammed the breaks in the middle of the road, halting the height of emotion that had gripped each of them. “Is this a sound decision for Vulcan?”

Jim was looking to Nyota for the answer, but she didn’t seem about ready to speak. So Jim followed the line of her eyes to Sarek. And Sarek … Sarek was looking at Spock. The question had been meant for him.

“My marriage to Prince James will be infinitely more stable than a marriage to Prince George would be,” Spock said, his eyes hard on Sarek’s. “Moreover, I trust Prince James’ diplomatic capabilities. I believe we will see far more exploration and equal treatment of allies under his rule, as well as more emphasis on scientific pursuits.” If the current king of Terra took offense to this, he kept his mouth shut, as Spock was clearly not finished. “Your desire is to see me rule alongside a Terran. I wish to assure you that with Prince James I will be treated as an equal partner. He has respect for our culture, for our family and for me as an individual.” Spock paused, and he met Jim’s eyes, Jim, who had been completely blindsided by such high praise. “And I love him,” Spock finished simply, before looking back to his parents. “I believe all this is reason enough.”

At that moment, Jim admitted to himself that he probably could have cried if he hadn’t been surrounded by the most important members of the two most influential courts in the quadrant. But the room and all its occupants felt muted after Spock’s small speech, the world fading around them even as gold sunlight broke over the horizon outside the window in earnest, laying orange and warm over the lot of them. He felt suddenly as if he were in a dream, some beautiful dream, but this was reality.

I love him, Spock had said. To his parents. As though it were as relevant to their decision as anything. Well. Jim supposed it was.

All eyes in the room turned to Sarek, though Jim wasn’t quite sure why. Perhaps because they knew that if anyone were to object, it would be him. Even Amanda had stepped back from her husband to get a look at him, her hand still soft on his arm. Jim didn’t realize he was holding his breath until he felt Spock shift beside him, grazing his knuckles against Jim’s as if in defiance. And suddenly Jim was aware of his own body again, the tremor he held back in his fingers, the wide set of his stance, feigning confidence, the way he stood so close to Spock it was as though it had been instinctual.

Sarek glanced around the room, looking thoroughly nonplussed. Jim had become adept at reading Spock’s expressions, but Sarek was a mystery, a living statue. The room waited silent as he took a deep breath and steepled his fingers. “Provided Prince George formally abdicates the throne before the wedding, I have no objection,” he said, and Jim thought his heart might burst out of his chest with the force of its beat. “The terms of the marriage were quite clear, and I fail to see why it matters which of you is crown prince so long as Spock marries him,” Sarek said. “My wife, do you have any objections?”

Amanda seemed to wilt, resting her head against Sarek’s shoulder. “Of course not! Goodness! I thought you were going to raise such a fuss, my husband.”

Without responding to that, Sarek looked to the Terran royalty. “King George, Queen Winona?” He asked. “I believe this is more your decision than mine, as it is your sons who you must … placate .”

George tossed up his hands, turning to Sam, who had Aurelan hanging off his arm. If George hadn’t deduced the nature of their relationship before, it was obvious now. “You’re sure this is what you want, son? All that work, all your training -- you won’t be able to take this back.” He looked almost as exhausted as Jim felt, his eyes tight. Sam nodded.

“I know,” he said. “I’m sure.” And then Winona looked to Jim, who felt some kind of balloon-like glee rising in him, choking his throat.

“And, Jim, this is what you want, too?” She asked. Jim smiled, looking to Spock, who met his eyes with such pure love, Jim thought he might drown in it.

“Absolutely.”

Silence settled again, the room warming up with the morning sunshine, some tension finally fading from all of them. Jim moved his fingers to Spock’s sleeve, knowing a touch more intimate would be inappropriate, but needing the contact, the physical reminder that this was real. They’d woken up.

“Well,” George said after a moment. “Ah, Nyota, I suppose I must ask you to draw up the papers. We haven’t had someone abdicate the throne in … in centuries. You may need to review the terms.”

Nyota seemed to snap out of a reverie. “Of course,” she said. “Right away, sir.”

Then George turned to Jim and Spock. “And, well, you two need to get ready, I suppose. Jim, I wish you’d told us earlier. I would very much like to speak with you before the actual ceremony. This… well, to say it’s unexpected is a bit of an understatement.”

Jim grinned in spite of the seriousness of George's tone, relief sinking deep into his bones. “Of course. I’m -- I’m sorry.”

“I too apologize for the late hour,” Spock put in, and George managed a small, tense smile.

Amanda released Winona’s hand and came forward, arms out to her son. “Spock,” she said softly, then turned her eyes on Jim. “James,” she addressed him, laying a hand on each of their shoulders. “You will be happy together?”

“Happiness is a human emotion, Amanda,” Sarek said from the other side of the room. Amanda shot a look over her shoulder, then turned her gaze back to Jim and Spock.

“We will,” Spock said as though he hadn’t heard his father. And Jim felt the smile ache in his cheeks. He was already so happy, he could only imagine what a lifetime with the one he loved may do.

“I’ll be good to him, your majesty,” Jim promised, meeting Amanda’s eyes.

She tilted her head and gave him a smile, patting his cheek, her hand heavy with golden rings. “You always have been,” she said, and Jim allowed his shoulders to slump. He didn’t have to try anymore, to put on any kind of royal facade. They had won, and somehow Jim had won so much more than he ever expected.

 


 

They parted just outside Jim’s rooms, as Spock had insisted on walking him back. The group had disbanded to prepare, and in a little over an hour Jim would be standing in a room with his brother and parents, signing forms that pledged his commitment to the throne, even as his brother abandoned his own.

Jim didn’t resent him for it. Love came before duty. It always had for Sam, and it turned out that had been the case for Jim as well. Love before duty. Now, love alongside duty. Spock’s thumbs brushed the peaks of Jim’s cheeks, and Jim held Spock’s wrists lightly, closing his eyes and breathing him in. “We’re getting married,” Jim said with a smile he could hear in his own voice.

“And you will be crown prince,” Spock said. “You are certain that this is the path you wish to take?”

Jim nodded, running his touch up Spock’s wrists and landing on his hands. “I am. It’s a lot of responsibility, but there’s so much possibility, too.” He opened his eyes to grin up at Spock, who wore his own smile. “And I think I can do this.”

“I am sure you can,” Spock assured him, pulling him close. Jim tucked his nose into Spock’s shoulder, bringing his hands around Spock’s back and resting his eyes for a moment. He sighed, leaning his weight more heavily on Spock’s chest.

“Think there’s time for a nap before the wedding?” he asked with a little chuckle, and Spock huffed into his hair, those strong, gentle fingers curling against Jim’s back.

“Perhaps, though I do not recommend it. We may sleep for a while before the reception.” Before the reception. After the ceremony. When they were wed. Jim grinned into Spock’s robe, thinking he could wait a little longer to rest if he had the promise of his husband’s arms around him later.

They held each other there in the hallway for a moment, Jim no longer worried that they may be spotted. The secret would be out soon enough, tabloids biting at the bit to confirm their theories of a royal affair, and somehow Jim couldn’t bring himself to care. Though that may have been due to the bodily exhaustion more than any peace he'd made with the press.

“I believe you made the right choice, Jim,” Spock said suddenly, pulling away just enough to meet Jim's eyes, so close Jim could see every gold fleck in his irises. “For the alliance, for your planet. And for yourself.”

“Look at us,” Jim said with a grin, nudging Spock’s nose playfully with his own. “Making so many choices today. Looks like the start of a brand new chapter, doesn’t it?”

“Another life,” Spock said, and Jim’s heart clenched.

“Another life,” he agreed, and he leaned up to press a kiss to Spock’s waiting lips.

 


 

At the tail-end of summer in San Francisco, the days already began to carry the promised chill of autumn. Hosting a wedding outside had been a risk, according to Nyota. Rains came on suddenly this time of year, often in the afternoon, and as the guests sat stiff in their seats under the gray skies, curling shawls and jackets around their shoulders, Jim wondered vaguely that he didn’t feel the cold himself. He hardly felt the breeze or the brief sunlight that poked through thin clouds. He didn’t smell the flowers, though the dais was so covered with them he should have been choking on their scent. Instead, all his senses seemed to have given way to the sense of sight, allowing him the opportunity to observe in perfect clarity the way Spock looked, standing there before him.

Spock had dusted platinum shadow over his eyelids and up to his brows, softening the darkness of his eyes, though he didn’t need the help. As he met Jim’s gaze, everything about him seemed soft from the set of his shoulders to the royal blue robes that whipped round his ankles in the wind. His hair ruffled slightly in that breeze, though it retained its shape as if by magic, and Jim wondered how, without adornment, Spock could look like such a prince. Such a king.

Jim’s own adornment, the badges and medals pinned to his formal uniform, caught the light every now and again, casting a mosaic shine along the center of Spock’s face. Jim watched Spock’s lips curl in a near smile, and he realized then that he was smiling, too.

Off to his side under the chuppah, a rabbi was reciting his final blessings, the sound finally returning to Jim if he forced himself to focus. He’d been on the wrong side of the rehearsal to remember exactly where the ceremony ended, what steps to complete. They’d sipped their wine, listened to the ketubah and the seven blessings, sipped their wine again, and now --

Jim nearly startled as Sam moved forward from his place beside Jim and placed two wrapped glass bundles on the dais, right between he and Spock. He met his brother’s eyes as Sam drew away, seeing relief in that tired expression, maybe the same relief that Jim felt. In another life, he would have been the one setting down the glasses. In another life, he would have been standing behind Sam. He was very grateful that was not the case. Smile still wide on his face, he looked up once more into Spock’s eyes, reaching out on instinct. They took each others’ wrists, steadying themselves.

“With the power vested in me by the planet Terra,” the rabbi said, “I now pronounce you wed.”

Jim’s grip around Spock’s wrist tightened, and he gave a little nod. In tandem, they raised their feet and stomped the glass, the shatter echoing fabulously over the palace grounds. It didn’t feel real until that moment, until the physical, tangible sensations of the crunch under Jim’s shoe, Spock’s fingers tight around his sleeve, the shout of “mazel tov !” ringing out from the human side of the wedding party, followed by uproarious applause.

But Jim’s world narrowed once again to the man moving toward him. Spock. His hands coming to clasp Jim’s and his lips crashing against Jim’s own in a kiss that Jim knew was probably inappropriate by most royal weddings’ standards. Even so, they were starting this marriage on the biggest scandal of the century. Jim figured as he pressed himself up against Spock and opened his mouth to his husband’s kiss that they may as well give the tabloids a show, too.

A clap of thunder echoed above, just as a smattering of raindrops began to beat against the canopy of the chuppah. Jim heard the groans and yelps of the soon-to-be-drenched wedding guests and he laughed against his husband’s mouth. When they pulled away, Jim saw that look in Spock’s eyes, that smile on his lips. It was the expression Jim had seen Sarek give Amanda, the expression he’d waited months for Spock to give Sam. But it was meant for Jim alone. It always had been.

 


 

Eleven years later

 

Greetings from Terra , the virtual postcard read, with a holo of Sam and Aurelan waving on some sunny beach. It was a silly, kitschy souvenir, but it made Jim smile all the same. His brother and sister-in-law had a habit of sending Jim the silliest cards. Why they had decided to celebrate their ten year anniversary by vacationing on-planet, he’d never know, but he was glad they were enjoying themselves. The note was short, sweet, a simple: We miss you and we’re thinking of you. Be nice to the Tellarites, and Jim closed down the computer with a grin on his face.

“Sam and Aurelan say hello,” he said as he turned his chair around. Spock stood at the floor-to-ceiling window, staring out at the stars. They streaked past as bright and fast as ever, the soothing shine of the universe laying over his husband’s skin, casting shadows in the folds of his robes. Beside him on the bedside table, where Spock absently rested his hand, a little pot of dandelions stood, their yellow petals lost in the blue light of the stars.

Spock turned to him, his own half smile spreading as Jim stood and approached. “They are enjoying their trip?” Spock asked, holding out a hand for Jim to take. Jim grazed his fingers along Spock’s, the tingling buzz as warm and welcoming now as it had been the first time they’d touched.

“Not as much as we are,” Jim said with a grin, pulling himself close to Spock and resting his head on his shoulder. On the bed behind them, two sets of formal clothes were laid out, preparation for their arrival on Tellar Prime. They would then fly to Andoria for a political summit, then to Vulcan to visit Spock’s family. It would be the eleven-year anniversary of their own wedding -- a good time to remind the Vulcan royalty that he’d been a perfectly logical husband so far, though Spock assured him that they had long shed any skepticism regarding the match.

“You are still happy, Jim?” Spock asked, as though there were any question at all.

Jim laughed. “Oh the diplomatic niceties are always tiresome,” he admitted, “but this?” With a sweep of his hand, he indicated the stars out the window, the universe they had at their disposal. “And this,” he said, squeezing Spock’s hand, “makes everything worth it.”

And though they couldn’t view the constellations here as they could on Terra, they stood stargazing together anyway, their hands clasped. And it felt good. Right. As it should have been from the start. “It was always meant to turn out this way, wasn’t it?” Jim asked suddenly, pulling away to look at his husband. “You and me, I mean.”

Spock gave him a small smile. Jim had asked as much before, but Spock always indulged him with an answer. “I do not believe anything is meant to be,” he said, as he always did. ”However, I find I do not care to imagine what our lives would be like if your courtship on your brother’s behalf had not been so effective.”

With a laugh, Jim brought a hand to the back of Spock’s head, guiding him in for a kiss. His heart sang at the gentle meeting of smiling lips, the way starlight illuminated their little room on their little ship, the way the universe felt full of possibilities, choices to be made.

And Jim knew they had made the right ones so far.