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Taste Like Copper

Chapter Text

“Somebody give me a status report!” Kirk shouted over the blaring of the red alert klaxons.

The bridge rocked again. The hull groaned and rattled as the ion storm continued to disrupt the space around the Enterprise. A few unlucky crewman were sprawled on the floor of the bridge, clutching chair posts and railings.

“Captain, the intensity of the storm is only increasing. At this rate, it will damage the ship beyond repair.” Another intense pulse threw Spock against his chair harness. He grunted, catching himself against the edge of the science station console. Despite the restraints, the edge of the console dug into his chest.

Even Kirk was gripping the captain’s chair with white knuckles while Lieutenant Darwin was tapping at the controls, cursing under her breath.

Spock checked the ion pod readings again. At force-7 intensity, Kirk had called for red alert and ordered all crew members to their emergency stations. The storm’s power was still rapidly climbing, now to potentially deadly proportions. The Enterprise would not be able to hold out for much longer. Kelvin pods would be equally useless while still in the storm. They had minimal shielding and would shake apart faster than a starship would. In deep space, it might take ages for a passing starship to hear the distress signals and find all the pods.

Sulu banged his fist against the navigation console. “I can’t get any indicators for location or heading. The storm is interfering with all of our sensors, Captain.”

“Injuries on decks 7 and 13,” a security cadet said as the ship shook again.

All at once, the ion storm ceased. The violent shaking turned off as if controlled by a switch. An uneasily silence stole over the bridge crew as the klaxons continued.

Spock looked back down at his station readings.

Kirk heaved a huge sigh. “Keep us at red alert but lose the alarm. What a headache. How’re my shields, Darwin?”

“The ion storm knocked us down to 40%, Captain.”

“Sensor readings returning. Determining location now. We’re... No, that can’t be right.” Sulu twisted in his seat, mouth agape. “We’re in the Beta Quadrant, sir. In the 40 Eridani star system.”

Spock glanced at Kirk, their eyes meeting as Kirk looked over at the same time. No doubt gauging his reaction. It had been more than six years since Spock had been in this system. Without Vulcan, there had been no reason to return. The painful reminder of Nero’s victory remained, a patch of space forever dark and blank.

Kirk inhaled slowly through his nose. “I need a little more than that. Everyone start checking surrounding space. There’s no way in hell we could have jumped so much. It was an ion storm, not a temporal distortion.”

At the direct order, the entire bridge crew turned in unison to begin checking sensors, scanners, and communication channels. Lieutenant Svoek, at Spock’s immediate left, was already logging and analyzing the ion storm data. Only a few security officers on the bridge were exempt from the orders, instead helping check injuries of the few crewmembers who hadn’t been at their stations and had been thrown to the floor. Kirk waved them off the bridge. They would need immediate medical attention from McCoy and M’Benga down in medbay.

The turbolift hummed as it took them away.

Spock glanced down at his own console. A strange reading gave him a long pause.

“Sir, there’s more.” Sulu had spun back to his console and was double checking the readers manually. “We’re in the star system but we’re right next to where Vulcan is. Was,” Sulu stumbled, clearing his throat awkwardly.

“Is,” Spock corrected, his voice a near whisper. Svoek’s head snapped toward him. It felt like the entire bridge stopped their furious work to look at Spock. “Captain, you will want to polarize the viewscreen for this.” Spock tapped the release button his emergency harness, freeing himself to stand up. He walked to Kirk, standing beside the captain’s chair.

“Polarize.”

The view screen shifted from data readings and star charts, revealing the space before them. A yeoman still clutching the handrail near a station gasped and sank to his knees. There, in its red glory, gleamed Vulcan. Untouched, unblemished. Spock’s throat felt tight at the sight of it. The sensor readings had said it was there, a planet where none should have been, but seeing was another matter entirely.

Even Kirk seemed choked with emotion. When Spock folded his hands behind his back and looked down, Kirk had a hand covering his eyes and was trembling. “Could it be an illusion, Spock? A deep space mirage? There have been old wives’ tales that starships start to misbehave out on the far reaches. Vulcan shouldn’t...”

“No, Captain. The sensors could malfunction, yes, but can our own eyes lie?”

“If you want something bad enough, Spock, yes.”

Spock cocked his head to one side, dissecting that phase.

Darwin did not allow him time to linger. “Ship approaching, Captain! Visible on the viewer.” She pointed to the top left of the screen. A starship was just sliding out from behind Vulcan. At first, it continued to follow the slow pull of Vulcan’s orbit but finally broke free and headed toward the Enterprise at speed.

“Uhura, you hailing them?”

“Yes, Captain. On all frequencies. I’m getting no response.”

“Shields still up, Darwin?”

“Yes, sir. Shields are still damaged from the ion storm. We won’t be able to take many hits if we’re engaged.”

Spock dropped a hand to Kirk’s shoulder, squeezing. “Wait. Magnify approaching vessel, helm.” Darwin complied immediately, filling the view screen with a digital enhancement of the ship. An identical copy of the Enterprise was storming toward them.

“Well, that’s impossible,” Kirk said.

“Captain, we need to proceed with extreme caution. An ion storm, sudden transportation to the Beta Quadrant, a Vulcan that still exists, a ship identical to our own. I can only think of one explanation that fits all the peculiarities occurring.” Spock removed his hand from Kirk’s shoulder.

Kirk frowned, staring out at the mirror image of the Enterprise. “Her color is wrong.”

“Captain?”

“She’s dark. I.S.S. Enterprise and she’s two shades too dark. Uhura, let’s send a visual hail. I got a weird feeling about this. Keep red alert on for the rest of the ship but let’s turn off the visual indicator for the hail. They don’t need to know we’re on the defensive.” Kirk retracted his own emergency harness, standing and pulling at the edge of his shirt to smooth it. “Let’s greet our friends, Spock.”

“Transmitting, Captain.”

“Greetings!” Kirk walked around the helm and Spock followed on his heels. “I’m James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC 1701-A. This is Commander Spock, my second-in-command. That’s a mighty fine ship, you’ve got there. Seems we’ve gotten a little lost. We’re peaceful explorers in need of some help turning back toward home.” He nodded once to Nyota when he was finished with his greeting. Kirk crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

Darwin removed the magnification from their view. The I.S.S. was slowing to impulse. She was a stark beauty against the undiluted red of Vulcan behind her.

“Receiving incoming transmission, Captain. Audio only.” Nyota did not wait for Kirk’s response. She immediately patched the message through. A husky laugh filled the bridge, making Spock shudder. Kirk tensed next to him, tilting his head to one side as if trying to hear it better.

For a moment, nothing followed the laugh except the low sounds of a bridge crew working in the background of the audio message. “Captain Kirk,” the voice purred. “Today has been a day of surprises, hasn’t it?” The question did not seem posed to them.

“Visual incoming,” Nyota reported.

The view to Vulcan and the other ship was covered immediately by a visual transmission of the I.S.S. Enterprise’s bridge.

“Greetings, indeed, little one.” The captain of the vessel had remained seated but he rose elegantly after seeing Kirk, unfolding his crossed legs. He ran a hand down his own uniform, tugging the bottom just as Kirk had. It was not the Starfleet issues uniform top that Spock was used to. It was green, a color no crewman had ever worn, and sparkling. The V cut of the neck drew Spock’s eyes to the other captain’s peeking collarbones and hint of tanned chest. There were patches and medals Spock did not recognize including a dagger piercing Terra. The combination was made even stranger by the gold sash tied smartly at the waist. “You were always striking, Commander, but especially in your youth.”

Spock looked back up, noting that the captain was looking directly at him instead of Kirk. He felt a chill and repressed the urge to react to it. There was something so familiar about the captain.

“Can you believe we were so young once?” The captain threw the question over his shoulder, half turning to address a crewmember not visible on the viewer. The rest of the crew of the other bridge were silent, looking down at their consoles with studied indifference. As if they were not allowed to engage unless instructed to.

A Vulcan stepped into the view. “Yes. It seems like only yesterday that you took command from Pike.”

Kirk inhaled sharply next to him. For a moment, Spock thought it was the mention of Pike that had startled him. The Vulcan had turned completely toward them and Spock suddenly understood. It was unmistakable. The commander had a goatee but Spock knew his own face creased with age after many meetings with Ambassador Spock.

“Who are you?” Kirk asked. There was a tightness in his voice that told Spock that he had figured it out too.

The captain stepped forward with the commander in unison. “I’m James T. Kirk of the I.S.S. Enterprise, NCC 1701. This is Commander Spock, my second-in-command. I’ve always been a sucker for the Enterprise. She is fine, gorgeous even. You are lost, however, if you think you’ve come to a peaceful place. The Empire hasn’t sought peace in a long time.”

“The Empire?” Kirk parroted. “Whose empire?”

“The Terran Empire, of course.”

Kirk shook his head in disbelief. “There’s no Terran Empire. We belong to the United Federation of Planets. Our starships are research vessels and peacekeeping tools. Terra is just a small part of the Federation. We don’t rule over anyone. All the united planets work toward the common goal of universal peace.”

The captain’s smile was slow, sharp, and tinged with danger. He exposed his teeth like a snarling animal but his voice was light, filled with false cheer. “You’re mistaken. Terra has ruled the universe with a blood and violence for centuries. We conquer other planets, subjugate them, advance ourselves with their technology and war weapons. Anything we want, we take. Commander,” the captain threw an arm around the commander’s shoulders, smile still fixed firmly on his face. “Do you know what I want most in the world right now?”

“No, Captain,” the commander answered. He was still looking at Spock and Spock squared his shoulders, as if that could protect him. “What do you want?” The commander turned finally toward his captain. They shared a long, measured look that surely communicated as many things as Spock and Kirk could communicate with a simple glance.

“Another Enterprise. Bring me that ship. Kill everyone on board.”

“As you wish, Captain.”

Chapter Text

As soon as the visual transmission ended, alert sirens began screaming on the Enterprise. Darwin shouted. Shields had dropped 5% from initial photon bursts from the ship’s dark sister. Sulu was playing frantically with the controls before him, already executing evasive maneuvers as Kirk vaulted back into the captain’s seat.

“Mr. Svoek,” Kirk snapped. “What’s the enemy look like? She running at full power or is she as damaged as we are?”

Svoek rushed to tactical, helping the junior officer there analyze the ship.

Sulu threw the ship into a steep dive. A barrage of photon fire sailed above and beyond them. For a breathless moment, vertigo rushed everyone on the bridge. Spock gripped the front of the navigation console and grit his teeth. Emergency harnesses burst from seat backings, the rhythmic clicking of belt sections just barely audible under the ruckus of the bridge.

“The ISS Enterprise has no power to its nacelles. Their warp drive is offline,” Svoek spoke up as Sulu swerved out of his dive. The junior officer at tactical looked ready to vomit but determinedly brought up another set of data for Svoek. “Scans indicate an older and outdated ship model compared to our own. Their shields are at 48% but their weapon system is not as powerful as ours. Our ship can hold against their onslaught even at reduced shields.”

Photon fire slammed their upper shielding.

“Engineering, what do you got for me?”

Scotty answered. “Despite the storm, the core is completely fine, Captain. Say the word.”

The ISS Enterprise had twisted itself into a dive to follow them, putting them at a nearly 90-degree angle directly above their ship. Spock glanced at Kirk who grimaced. “Scotty, give me warp. Whatever warp you want. Go, go, go.”

“Aye, Captain!”

The vibration of the Enterprise hummed higher, the familiar singing of the warp drives coming online. Spock braced himself for the jump. Kirk white knuckled his chair’s arms.

“Warp offline!”

“Weapons offline, Captain.”

“Impulse engines not responding.”

“Ship has come to a full stop. Something’s got us in its hold.”

Kirk let loose a colorful string of Terran curses, banging a fist down. “What the hell is happening? Are shields still up? What’s the ISS doing?”

“Shields at 35% and still holding, Captain,” Darwin said.

Spock leaned over to read her console. The ISS Enterprise was still poised above them, menacing but equally still. If her weapons were online, they were sitting ducks beneath her. The photons onboard the darker ship could very well be weaker but even the Enterprise would buckle under a weak but persistent onslaught with compromised shields. Spock thought of Krall severing them from their warp drive and punching through the deflector dish.

The junior office with Svoek wheezed through her gills. “It seems as if the planet has us in a tractor beam, Captain. The ISS is also caught. There must be some... planetary defenses nullifying our warp and weapon capabilities.”

“The beam is emanating from the surface and pulling us into a locked orbit of the planet, Captain,” Svoek added.

Kirk slumped backwards, blowing out his breath in one explosive exhale. “Well, damn. Lucky day.” He scrubbed a hand through his hair and down over his face. His emergency harness retracted. “Pretty sure that captain is going to be pissed he got interrupted but I, for one, want to thank the Vulcan who just saved our asses.”

“You might get the chance, Kirk. Incoming transmission.” Once again, Nyota put the visual up on the main viewer before Kirk could so much as nod.

Where Spock expected to see the ISS Captain, instead there was a Vulcan clad in a dark orange robe with long black hair in intricate braids. Even his bangs were long and uneven, settling along his brow line. He wore a golden drape crown, carefully set over the part of his hair and threaded into the braids. Spock had never seen a Vulcan wear a crown before. Nor any of the other jewelry the Vulcan was adorned with. Rings, necklaces, piercings and cuffs on the upper ears. There was even heavy makeup on him: dark lipstick, winged eyeliner, golden eye shadow making a careful arc to follow the upward strike of his eyebrows.

Even the ISS Commander had only had the faintest blue eyeshadow, barely noticeable.

It unsettled him to see a Vulcan who had shrugged off all traditional hallmarks of their post-Surak culture. He saw Sybok in this Vulcan. Wild, dangerous, familiar.

The Vulcan rose from a seat barely visible in the close-up visual. It looked like a throne but Vulcan had no royalty anymore, not in their timeline. “Travelers, welcome to Vulcan. Your bravery brings honor to you. From where have you come, foreigners? Your ships are unfamiliar.” The Vulcan spoke in formal, ancient golic. Spock had never heard it spoken aloud. The universal translator was delayed in translating the message, stringing together a crudely simplistic translation.

Even Nyota had to shake herself to action, floored by the old language. “We are being hailed for a response.”

Kirk looked stunned when Spock turned to look at him. His eyes were fixed on the screen but he took a moment to run a hand over his hair, as if he were suddenly self conscious. Nyota had to call his name a second time before he blinked. A red flush appeared at the collar of his shirt, crawling up his pale neck. “Yeah, open us up. No doubt the ISS is being hailed too.” He stood, tugging the bottom of his shirt.

Spock stayed at the edge of Darwin’s console, looking away from Kirk to the main viewer.

“I’m able to tap into the other ship’s communication. It’s an open frequency. They’re likely able to do the same with ours. Up on the viewer.”

Next to the visual of the Vulcan, the bridge of the ISS was once more visible. A navigator had a sharp cut across their forehead, a tactical officer was unmoving further back. When the captain moved into the visual range with his commander, he was wiping a blade clean. “We come from the Terran Empire. Who the hell are you?”

Spock grimaced and Kirk spoke up immediately, “We’re not with them. Just some unfortunate travelers, lost in the wrong place and time. Peaceful travelers from a United Federation.”

The Vulcan seemed to be looking between two visuals. He tilted his head to one side and then the next. “Fascinating.” Glancing down and likely gathering his robes, he took several steps down from his seat. It was a throne, carved from heavy, dark wood. Where had they gotten that on a desert planet, Spock wondered. What worlds were conquered and looted? The Vulcan was kneeling, revealing two naked men to the frame. They had been chained on the throne’s dias, heavy metal collars at their necks with long snaking chains. Both were covered in lovebites and scratches but otherwise healthy looked, well-fed. They were curled at the base of the dias, backs to their unwitting audience. The Vulcan touched the face of one of the chained slaves, making him tilt his head up toward the transmission receiver.

His golden hair was longer, shaggier, but his lightning-strike blue eyes were unmistakable.

“I am Prince Spock of Vulcan. This is one of my Terran pleasure pets. Look, Tiberius, are these men not strangely familiar?”

Tiberius smiled at his prince and looked more carefully at the screen. The ISS captain was deathly silent but Kirk could not stifle his sharp inhalation. Spock gripped Darwin’s console so hard that a corner bent beneath his grasp. “Captain, the other Terran...”

Prince Spock stroked two fingers down Tiberius’ shoulder to his wrist, a small smile tugging at his lips. He had heard Spock then. “Ah, Horatio. Yes. He is a treat. On Terra, he was a doctor. Of course, here his skills are useless but we make better use of you, don’t we, my dear doctor?”

Horatio shifted, bringing his knees up to hide himself as he turned obediently, but squared his shoulders. He nodded once, a second time when Prince Spock’s gaze still lingered on him.

“Why do you have Terran slaves?” Kirk choked.

At the same time, the ISS captain asked, “why shouldn’t we blast you off the face of your precious dirt ball and free those men?”

The Prince kissed Tiberius in the Terran way, long and languidly slow. He raised two fingers and Horatio leaned forward to meet them. The slide of his fingertips along the prince’s fingers was worshipfully gentle, obscene to watch.

Spock’s skin prickled; he felt trapped, unable to look away from the intimate display. How many times had he imagined living the scenario that played before him? He tore his gaze away, peeling his hands from the crushed corner of Darwin’s console. When he clenched his hands at his sides, his knuckles popped.

“You would find that most difficult, Captain,” the prince finally answered, pressing another kiss to Tiberius’ temple before standing away. As the visual followed him, Tiberius and Horatio once again disappeared from view. “Vulcan is protected by a series of high-tech and unmatched planetary defences. Even if you had weapons powerful enough to try and destroy us, you would be unable to use them. Once in our orbit and with the system on, your weapons are neutralized.”

“What about our warp engines? Why have they gone offline?” Spock could think more clearly now. He stepped forward, hiding his hands behind his back, and hoping nothing betrayed his discomfort.

Once again, the prince stopped to regard him. “What a strange world you must be from to wear your hair in such a distasteful way.” He flicked some of his own long hair over one shoulder. “The beam you are trapped in counteracts warp engines. Tell me, is there a Horatio on your ships?”

The ISS captain snarled. “None of your fucking business, scum.”

Prince Spock smiled. A predator baring his teeth. “Find the biometric matches. Beam them to the cages,” he ordered to someone out of visual range.

If the ISS captain responded unkindly, Spock did not know. The communications from both Vulcan and the other ship were abruptly cut.

Spock turned on his heel to reach Kirk, who had already slammed a hand down on the chair’s console. “Bones! Bones, grab a phaser or a laser scalpel.”

“What?” McCoy shouted back over the summons. “The hell’s going on, Jim?”

“No time for questions, Bones. Later. Darwin, what’s the chance they can remotely transport us?”

She looked uncomfortable when she turned back, glancing between Spock and Kirk. “If Mr. Chekov can do it, it’s not unlikely that this timeline has the capabilities as well.”

Spock gestured for the security officers on the bridge to come forward. Without direction, they surrendered their duty phasers and communicators. “The better question is if they are sophisticated enough to remove our technology during beam down.”

Kirk strapped the phaser holster onto his hip and thigh. “Let’s hope not.” He tucked his phaser into it while Spock hid his beneath his shirt.

“Captain!” Nyota gasped. She stood so quickly from her chair that she slammed her hip against an arm. Undeterred, she pointed at them. Already, swirling light motes were creeping up their arms and legs. “I think they’ve got a lock.”

Spock felt the continually curious sensation of remote transbeaming envelope him. Kirk grabbed his elbow and started to shout orders to the crew about finding a way around the warp drive neutralization and if we don’t make it back in two hours, leave us. By the time Kirk had paused to take a breath, the Enterprise was far gone.

Cages was an apt word for where they found themselves. The bars were thick on all four sides and the top of the small cube enclosure. It was not unlike the cells in some backwater penal colonies. They were trapped, enclosed like animals. Immediately Spock gripped the bars, trying to pull at them. A second cage stood empty for only a moment more before that two was filled by the transported ISS triumvirate. They were too far to see, the room too dark, and the bars of the cage were too strong for Spock to bend. He turned back to see Kirk sitting on the floor and McCoy finally appearing with an expression of panic and confusion. McCoy took only a moment to recover before he began to pace, scowling.

“What in the blue blazes have you gotten us into this time, Jim?”

Chapter Text

“For once, Bones, I can promise it wasn’t me. I don’t think anyway. Spock?”

Spock sat carefully, controlling an impulse to sigh. He settled into a meditative pose. “While I might blame a James Kirk, it was not this particular Kirk.” With great effort, he tried to clear his mind. They would solve nothing bickering in this cage. Though, truly, that was the least of his concerns. With his eyes closed, all he could see were the slaves the prince kept— Tiberius pale and pink where Horatio was golden.

McCoy’s sputtering confusion at least drew Spock back from his inappropriate thoughts. “Not this Kirk?”

“Well, the ion storm?” Kirk started. “Knocked us into a parallel universe. Somehow we weren’t the only ones. Another ship greeted us named the ISS Enterprise. When we hailed them, older and meaner looking versions of Spock and I appeared. I’m guessing they had their own Bones down in medbay too.”

There was a heavy sound, likely McCoy finally dropping into a seated position. Spock knew if he opened his eyes he would see McCoy with his head in his hands. Thinking, if Spock had to guess, on the many mistakes that had led him to Starfleet and to their starship. “Why’ve we beamed down?”

Spock counted the space of five slow Terran heartbeats before Kirk answered.

“We were forced down. Did you manage to bring what I told you? I still have mine, surprisingly. Guess he didn’t count on us being near weapons.”

The phaser hidden under his shirt still dug into his back, reassuring. He opened his eyes to peek at McCoy, who was pulling out both a laser scalpel and a tricorder. McCoy turned the scalpel over, worrying it with the tips of his fingers. “You know how I feel about fighting, Jim. I’ll do it if I have to.” He looked up with a defiant expression, meeting Spock’s eyes for a moment before looking at Kirk in turn. “I could.”

“I know, Bones,” Kirk whispered, scooting closer. He took the scalpel from McCoy’s hands, his touch lingering. For a moment, they seem lost in each other, sharing some silent communicative stare that Spock was not invited to.

McCoy cleared his throat and wiggled the tricorder. “Wanted to grab a hypo too but, oh well. Maybe we’ll get out unscatched.”

“The person who forced us down called himself Prince Spock.” Kirk’s voice was light with humor.

“A prince, now that I’d pay to see.”

Kirk made no mention of the slaves at that prince’s feet nor did Spock. Spock closed his eyes once more, shutting out their quiet conversation. The other cage was too far for his eyes in the dark but his hearing was sensitive enough. He could hear their hushed conversation. In the other cage, the Captain was silent while his Commander and Doctor spoke instead. They were arguing. The Commander kept his tone carefully controlled but the Doctor was hissing and spitting insults. Ought to make a prize of his genitals, who does this scum think he is followed swiftly by that would be most unwise, Leonard.

It had been impossible to tell from the visual of the transmission if the Prince had guards. No doubt they did not leave him unattended. Though Spock was sure no one considered the slaves a threat, it would still be ill-advised to leave a royal unmonitored. What a terrible world where Vulcan had found logic in taking slaves for pleasure. He had a fierce longing for his own Vulcan. This place made him feel too deeply, too hotly.

Envy for the Prince, lust for his slaves.

Spock startled when someone touched him. He opened his eyes hastily but it was only McCoy peering at him with a frown. Kirk was lounging on his stomach now, kicking his feet idly in the air. “You okay, Spock?”

“I was merely listening to our counterparts. Their world seems brutal and violent by the way their doctor speaks. He suggests torture and revenge on the Vulcan prince who brought us here.”

McCoy grimaced. “I would never,” he swallowed, hand dropping from Spock’s shoulder to his elbow. He gripped Spock as the hold to keep himself grounded. His eyes were wide and Spock regretted saying anything. Spock leaned closer to McCoy, to reassure him, but jerked away when he heard unhurried footsteps nearing them.

Kirk stood first, Spock and McCoy rising to join him. McCoy’s grip on his elbow did not loosen. Inexplicably, Spock thought of covering McCoy’s hand with his own. Comforting. He did not bother to follow that thought.

The Prince stood before their cage, flanked by two impassive guards. He cut an even more impressive figure in person. Perhaps it was the robes but he seemed taller than Spock, skin a deeper shade of green. His eyes were black, not brown, Spock noted with vague interest. Sybok had always told him that his humanity was plain in his eyes, his emotions brimming there even with his tightest controls.

The scalpel was absent from Kirk’s hand, no doubt hidden away. This time, Kirk controlled himself better in the face of the prince. Spock could detect the tremor in his hand, the aborted way Kirk seemed to shift toward the bars of the cage and then flinch away.

“Why did you bring us here? We just want to get back to our own time and place.” Kirk’s voice trembled only for a moment before taking a firm, authoritative edge again.

“Send us back,” McCoy spoke up, scowling at the prince.

“I do not come to collect either of you.” The Prince’s voice was smooth. It had no inflection. He pinned Spock with a look. “You will come with me at this time. I have much to show you. Your bonded will stay behind.”

Spock did not want to go, readied himself to say as much, but what slipped out instead was, “They are not my bonded.” McCoy and Kirk turned to him, both looking equally baffled by that response. They both began to speak all at once.

“If you think for one god damned minute—”

“My second stays with us.”

“—that we’ll just hand over our hobgoblin to you bastards—”

“If you try to separate us, I can’t guarantee we’ll remain peace-minded.”

“—you’ve got another thing coming!’

The Prince ignored them, tilting his head to one side. The weak light of the room glimmered, captured within the wing of his eyeshadow. “You have not bonded.” It was flat repetition. The Prince made no effort to raise his voice over Kirk and McCoy. He lifted his hand to lazily point forward. The guards leveled phasers into their cage and McCoy flinched back.

Kirk cursed and took McCoy by his wrists, leading him off to one side as the phasers stayed trained on them. “Spock, being alone with him is a bad idea.”

“Yet, if I do not go, you may both be harmed.”

The Prince was unlocking the cage, holding the door open for Spock with a raised eyebrow. “Yes, they may well be. Come. I take you for a tour. You will see them again before the end.”

The end, Spock could not help but linger on. The threat was explicit. Nevertheless, he stepped down from the cage, stealing only one glance back at Kirk and McCoy. McCoy was curled into Kirk’s hold, glaring at the Prince over Kirk’s shoulder. Kirk seemed less vehement, looking torn between a risky decision and staying to protect McCoy. He met Spock’s look, nodding grimly at him. Spock clasped his hands behind his back and followed the Prince away from the cage, the darkness, and the uncertain way his heart fluttered at his side to be parted from them.

“For what reason have you not bonded them? Are they not yours to take?”

There were many empty cages between them and the exit, strange enough on its own. Stranger to know it was sequestered in some dark room. How many times had this prince stolen people, collecting them and breaking their spirit in the dark? Spock did not look at him, unable to stomach his heavy make up and alien eyes. It struck him, like a bolt. “Do you have a human mother, Prince Spock?”

If the Prince was put off by his question, he gave no indication. Neither he nor his guards slowed their strides. “I would not be so disgraced. I am the second son of Sarek and T’Rea. The war council decided to kill Sarek when he began to be swayed emotionally by his Terran pet, elevating me in his place. The Terrans are beneath us, inferior, merely diversion between conquests.”

“Yet you ask of bonds.”

“Bonds, yes, to enslave them to your will.”

The lie was so smooth that Spock had a moment of disbelief and disgust. A door slid open to a brightly lit hall and the guards went ahead of their prince. Still, the Prince’s face was unreadable. Yet Spock had lived with that face, those delicately crafted masks, knew when he said one thing to mean another. Was the Commander like them as well? Spock thought of Kirk’s eyes and McCoy’s hands—how this simple feeling could live in a brutal world where a captain could cut down a navigator or attack another Terran for his ship. Impossible, like Vulcan returning unblemished before him.

“Come. I would have you meet them.”

“Why?”

“To be undone by the knowing.”

The rest of the facility was unlike the dark space Spock had come to know. Whole swatches of the building were modern in white and silver. For a moment, Spock forgot he was planetside. It felt so much like the aesthetics of space travel. The long winding passage they entered looked far more ancient. It was stacked stone, statues of elder Vulcans peering down at them. It looked much like the Hall of Ancient Thought. Were they perched on Mount Seleya? Could he see Nevasa if he freed himself for a moment to run outside into the welcomed heat of his homeworld?

There was no leaving the Prince yet. Spock had been too well ensnared.

The throne room was smaller than he expected in the face of all other grandiose rooms and halls they had passed through. Or maybe Spock could not appreciate it. At once, he was riveted to the play of two Terran bodies at the base of the Prince’s throne.

Tiberius and Horatio were tangled in one another, breathless with delight. Their skin flushed rosy and freshly bruised from their own hands. Horatio was poised on top, thrusting lazily and pushing Tiberius’ fringe from his face. The throne room was not just small, it was suffocating. Spock forgot why breathing and blinking were necessary. Forgot why he had been brought here. His world narrowed to the indents of Horatio’s fingertips on Tiberius’ slim hips, the sweat that rolled from Horatio’s shoulder to the dip of his lower back.

“Exquisite, unmatched. They would yield to you. You could have them knelt before you.”

Spock ached. He could turn away; he could close his eyes. His body refused him. The Prince slipped past him and, betrayed, his feet followed the Prince.

Horatio glanced up, licking sweat from his upper lip but did not pause in his lovemaking. Tiberius scrambled to wrap his long legs around Horatio’s narrow hips. “Please, please,” Tiberius begged. It seemed even this counterpart of McCoy was not prone to following orders. He dug his fingernails into Tiberius’ side to make him still. Tiberius made a pitiful, keening noise. He untucked his face from Horatio’s neck, throwing his head back to find the source of disruption. “Tell him to move, master,” Tiberius whined when he saw what had made Horatio stop. He had eyes only for his prince.

The Prince knelt down to take a Terran kiss from Horatio’s lips.

Tiberius groaned loudly in protest, detaching his arms from Horatio’s shoulders to flop backwards against the hard dias. On his chest, dark as sin, lay the golic for sun.

“You have branded him.” Spock’s voice, even to his own ears, was a rough, dry-rasp. He could not look away from the script. It began at the meeting of Tiberius’ collarbone and ended at his bellybutton.

“He is mine to do with as I please. His mark is not alone. Horatio?”

Horatio did not move to part from where he was buried in Tiberius but he did sit up to reveal himself. In matching script and location, Horatio was stained by the golic for moon. A set, a pair. Spock felt unsteady on his feet but to kneel would serve to bring him closer. He could not bear it.

“My sun and moon,” the Prince confirmed aloud in Terran, slipping from the Vulcan they had been speaking aloud since they had left the room of cages. “The day we burned Terra and razed her colonies, I thought I would find nothing of interest. But lo, huddled together in a school building, I came upon two remarkable Terrans. They fought me for months, unbreakable. They would only have one another, would refuse my bed to take the floor instead.” The Prince slid his hand between them, taking hold of Tiberius and languidly stroking. All at once, Horatio and Tiberius sprung to life once more, unable or unwilling to remain still now.

Spock could not look at them any longer.

“When I touched their minds, it was as if the entire galaxy had shifted to bring them to me. No longer did they resist. Terrans are impressive lovers but they are not perfect by any means. Two is good but six would be best.”

The slick slapping noise of Horatio and Tiberius’ coupling delayed Spock for a moment. He heard the words, lost them, brought his mind back round again to listen again. “You brought us here to take McCoy and Kirk from each of our worlds?”

The Prince stood, invading his line of sight. He raised a hand to touch Spock’s cheek. Spock recoiled immediately, smelling Tiberius on that hand. But not Kirk, not his Kirk.

“Your worlds, yes, but not you. You never had them to begin with.”

Chapter Text

The prince did not return him personally to his cage. Instead, he waved another Vulcan forward from a passing group of warriors. Prince Spock retraced their path only to the room of statues, evidently growing bored of carting Spock around. Spock responded to all queries and threats with silence.

“Stonn, attend.”

The Stonn of this world filled Spock with a sharp sadness. He was almost completely unchanged, except for a well kempt beard and his warrior garb, like a Terran gladiator. He knelt before the prince. “Sa-elki. I am yours to command.”

To think, Sa-elki had once been a word buried in his father’s study in ancient texts still kept in print with plant fiber bindings. Such an old Vulcan word, unnecessary now in light of the Federation and the Vulcan’s council of elders. There was no use for old words like prince anymore. And now Spock knew of an entire world with Vulcan royalty.

“Rise.” Prince Spock waited until Stonn was standing with his hands tucked behind his back. All the warriors stood like this as they waited. Spock felt they would not move until explicitly dismissed. The prince touched Stonn’s cheek, tracing a fingertip along the line of his beard.

Stonn shuddered.

The guards remained unaffected by the display but the warriors seemed to stand taller. As if it were some great honor for the prince to recognize one of their own.

“You have long been absent from my bed. Who entertains your nights?”

“If you have need of me, Sa-elki—”

Prince Spock’s tender touch turned in a heartbeat. He gripped Stonn’s chin, digging sharp black nails into his skin. “Answer.”

“T’Pring.”

“T’Pring,” Prince Spock repeated with the same flat inflection as he had when Spock told him that he was not bonded to Kirk and McCoy. “T’Pring is powerful. A logical mate. You would choose her over your prince?”

“If you have need of me, I would obey without hesitation.”

The prince scoffed and let Stonn go. “My needs can be attended by your betters. Take this prisoner to the cage with two Terrans. Report back to your warriors when you have finished.” He gave Spock one last look before he turned on his heel. His guards followed without hesitation.

Stonn dismissed his warriors. There was silence after the sound of their marching faded into the distance. Whatever damnation had passed between the prince and Stonn hung in the air.

“T’Rea had only two sons,” Stonn said finally.

“I am not of T’Rea,” Spock confirmed.

“You look like him.”

Spock nodded but said nothing. It took resilience to keep himself from this Stonn. Only the carefully kept beard differentiated him from the man Spock had grown up with. The Stonn who had perished as Vulcan collapsed. There had been a time when Spock loved that Stonn, caught between Stonn’s fierce strength and T’Pring’s relentless logic. They had been everything Spock could not be. Unattainable and utterly devoted to one another.

They wasted no more time.

Stonn escorted Spock to the cage and locked it once more, the bolt sliding in with a fatal clang. Stonn paused before him as Kirk stood and McCoy looked up from where he had been napping on the floor. He was unperturbed by their presence. He had eyes only for Spock’s face, searching for something.

“Stonn,” Spock said, tone full of warning.

“I feel like I have known you a lifetime but I have never seen you.”

Spock clutched the bars of his cage. “Forget my face. Listen to me. The prince will not forgive your betrayal. It would have been safer to lie. After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. You both will be in danger now. You know this.”

“Yes.” Stonn looked away. “Yes but there is no hiding from the truth here. Not while he is ruling.”

“Spock,” Kirk whispered.

Spock ignored him. “This empire will be overthrown. It cannot endure.”

Stonn smiled, a small and resigned smile. An alien look on a full-blooded Vulcan’s face. Kirk drew back. It was strange for Spock, too. He had never seen Stonn smile, even with T’Pring.

“One man cannot summon the future.” He nodded once at Spock, sparing the briefest glances at Kirk and McCoy. There was no recognition there. Stonn must never have seen the Terran slaves his prince kept.

“One man can change the present, Stonn.”

The door to the room of cages closed.

“So you know that Vulcan or?” Kirk said with a nervous grin.

They looked no worse for wear. Clearly no Vulcan guards came to prod them in the time Spock had been gone. Nothing about them looked different at all. Yet Spock could not clear his mind of Horatio and Tiberius. Bruised and sweating and frantically loving one another. Marked and claimed.

Spock went to McCoy, sitting beside him. “I knew his counterpart in our world. A childhood friend who died when Nero destroyed Vulcan. You were undisturbed when alone?”

McCoy scoffed, taking Kirk by the hand to make him sit with them. Kirk crouched in front of them. “Undisturbed, yeah. We had to deal with the shouting match from our neighbors. They got real rowdy when you left, hurling all sorts of insults like anyone could hear them.”

“What do you have to report, Number One?” Kirk cut in.

Spock paused, tilting his head to appraise Kirk. McCoy still had Kirk’s hand in his, though Kirk was bouncing on his heels. It occured to Spock that Kirk was restless. Aching to be moving and solving. Spock could see it in the clenching of Kirk’s jaw and the way his eyes darted continually between their counterparts’ distant buzz of conversation and the exit that Stonn had taken.

“You broke him.” McCoy laughed nervously.

“Our Captain has never called me his Number One.”

Kirk shuffled. “It’s a standard phrase for a second-in-command, Spock. It’s not exactly a nickname or anything.”

Pike’s XO had been exclusively referred to as Number One. Spock had known Una from the time she had been in academy with him. They had been rivals instead of friends and, consequently, Spock only ever knew her last name. She had beaten him out in everything, including becoming Pike’s XO while still a lieutenant. Still, he thought of her with envy and admiration. She had cared deeply for Pike and remained Spock’s standard. Pike, in turn, had never been able to hide his interest in her though he endeavoured. Number One, Pike would call out to her, and it had been so achingly obvious to Spock that it had been shrouded in layers of fondness and exasperation. Tinged with love.

“I am not opposed to the moniker, only curious as to your use of it at this time.”

“Felt right,” Kirk grumbled and slid his hand from McCoy when Spock turned his calculating eyes on that connection as well. “I’d like to formulate a plan. You know, for escape? Unless you saw something out there that makes you think we should stay for the rest of forever.”

Spock thought of the dark-stain of golic tattoos.

“No, I did not. Forgive me, I will give a full report, Captain.”

He recounted the layout of each section of the facility that the prince had taken him through. Exits and entrances. Guards and warrior regimes. There had been mounted weapons in some rooms. Spock described their uses and how they were affixed to the wall. Any small detail could mean the difference between their escape or their death. Spock spared none, even when McCoy clearely stopped listening, leaning his head back against the bars with his eyes closed. He mentioned the Sarek of this world and his fate, to give Kirk a better frame of reference for the culture here.

“The warrior Stonn was forced to tell the prince of his liaison with a Vulcan woman,” Spock said finally. “Stonn lost the prince’s favor. From what I saw in the throne room, this prince is not someone to be taken lightly.” Spock felt with a certainty that the prince had revealed Sarek to the people to gain the throne and to shift attention from his own indiscretions. Yet whatever Prince Spock said to justify himself, Spock knew with a bone-deep certainty that he loved Horatio and Tiberius.

Kirk was silent, all movement arrested for a moment. His brow was furrowed and his gaze far away. Likely already working at a possible solution to their predicament.

“You loved him,” McCoy muttered.

Spock did not acknowledge the question. He looked way from Kirk.

“Stonn,” McCoy clarified when Kirk’s attention snapped back to them. “In our universe, you loved him. I can hear it in your voice.” His eyes were still closed and his face looked untroubled by all the information that Spock had dumped on them. “Nothing to be ashamed of.”

Kirk raised an eyebrow at Spock.

“When we were young, yes. I loved him and T’Pring.”

“T’Pring?” McCoy lifted his head, curiosity evident.

“Vulcans pair children for bonding before our maturation. T’Pring was to be my mate one day.”

It had been a logical match. Her family, like the House of Sarek, was highly-respected with a long line of prominent individuals who had distinguished themselves. It was their loss to have such a promising daughter given to a half-breed. Sarek, despite his dalliances, was still well-regarded. But it was House of Sarek’s blood connection to Surak that had ultimately saved the bonding negotiations.

She had been beautiful. Dark hair, glittering eyes, and the sharpest intellect Spock had come across. Spock saw shades of her in all the women he had met since their parting. She died during the great destruction of Nero as well.

Spock looked from McCoy to Kirk. Thought on their hands, holding each other tightly. “T’Pring and I were promised to one another but she did not love me. Stonn did not either. They loved one another. Their happiness was enough. When the time came, I let them go to each other and I chose space instead.”

“I remember Stonn,” the Commander from the I.S.S Enterprise spoke. He did not shout to be heard. His voice carried, unmodulated but oppressing.

Kirk and McCoy fell silent.

In the darkness of the large room, Spock could just make out the other cell. Their Captain knelt in a faraway corner but their Doctor and Commander stood together, arms touching. The two cages were far enough away that the Terrans would have to shout to hear one another.

But Spock heard the Commander as if he was whispering each syllable into his ear.

“When I discovered their treachery,” the Commander continued, “the solution was obvious. I castrated Stonn. The Terran empire has no use for Vulcan children anyway.”

“Except as slaves,” the Captain sneered. His voice stayed low. It was clear Kirk and McCoy could not hear him. A blessing, as McCoy had gone pale at the mention of castration.

“And T’Pring, my betrothed, from her I took her covetous eyes.”

“Can’t take the credit for that. I took her damn eyes. It was my proposal gift.” The Doctor chimed in, smiling at the Commander. They kissed with their fingertips and Spock hastened to look away.

Kirk frowned. “What? Did one of them say something else?”

Spock shook his head. “There is no benefit to knowing what the Terrans speak of.” He made no mention either of the relationship that was suddenly clear between the two men sharing Vulcan kisses while their Captain pointedly looked the other way. It had been enough that the entire bridge had seen the Prince’s slaves. Spock did not want to know how Kirk and McCoy would take this. He hoped McCoy would never see the slaves at all.

“We need them, Spock.” Kirk stood up, reaching between the bars to run his fingers blindly over the locking mechanisms. “We can’t fight a battle on two fronts. Whether we like their barbaric culture or not, we need them to overpower this Vulcan prince guy.”

“Doubt they’re going to be gung-ho about teamwork, Jim,” McCoy grumbled.

The Commander was quietly relaying their conversation. Immediately, uproarious laughter filled the room.

“Sawbones,” the Captain squawked in between laughter. “They think we’ll help them if they ask.”

Sawbones bared his teeth, the white a gleam in the darkness that cut across his face. He shouted, “Your universe is weak, tamed, bridled! Why the fuck would we want to help you?”

Kirk grit his teeth. He paused in his exploration of the lock. Inhaling slowly, he answered loudly, “Because without each other, we’re going to end up trapped here away from both of our ships and our crews. Don’t you care about your ship, Captain?”

For a moment, the other cage was silent and Spock could see the Captain still crouched.

“You know, little one, I do. And do you know who tried to take that all away from me? You did. You were older then or so says my Commander. And your Spock’s little impassioned nonsense to that Vulcan sounded an awful lot like the speech you allegedly gave my Spock. What else did he say, Commander? When he tried to seduce you away? When he asked you to bury your knife into my back and twist it?” The Captain questioned, growing louder and louder.

“He told me of your device so I would gain the power that made you an invincible captain. He asked, past or future? Tyranny or freedom?”

“A silly plea. He had no idea about our world.”

“Yes. I have already chosen my path. A future, yes, where I serve by choice under an emperor of my choosing. My King, J—”

“Don’t!” Kirk shouted. “Don’t fucking say it!” His grip on the cage’s bars made his knuckles white.

“Jim?” McCoy was up in a flash, arms wrapped around Kirk. “Sweetheart, you’re alright. I’m right here. Ain’t nowhere near that colony or that man, you hear me? Say it, Jim.”

Kirk turned into his arms. “I know where I am, Bones, it’s okay.”

There was a bang from the other cage. The Captain had slammed his fist into the door of the cage. He laughed. “You still think about him, don’t you? Kodos.” He spat the name and paced the edge of the cage. “How he saved us, saw our potential, plucked us from the others. Born for great things, he promised, and fed us with the same hand that ordered the death of thousands.”

This time, Kirk buried his face into McCoy’s chest and covered his ears.

“Four thousand! While we sat at the table and gorged ourselves.”

Spock could take no more. “Enough! What you do serves no purpose but to increase the likelihood of our deaths. How do you intend to escape if it is only the three of you?”

The Captain stopped, turning blindly toward Spock’s voice. “First, goblin, escape plans are more efficient with fewer variables. Second, one doctor here had enough brain cells to bring a good ol’ laser bonesaw. And you told us more than enough to get us out the door, didn’t you?”

He had forgotten their Commander in the face of Stonn. When he delivered his report, he had made no effort to keep his voice low. It wouldn’t have mattered to Vulcan-hearing anyway. Though they had evidently not heard that McCoy had brought his own laser scalpel or that they each had brought phasers.

“You will fail,” Spock answered with false confidence.

When all the arguing finally ceased, McCoy slept, head pillowed on Kirk’s thigh. And Kirk stared at the cage. His mouth moved in silence as he ran through various escape plans. Sometimes, he fell into a fitful sleep before some nightmare jolted him awake. Spock commented on neither, meditating.

If their older counterparts truly had a laser powerful enough to cut through the bars, they made no move to use it. They slept in shifts, instead. Two asleep while one kept guard.

“It’s been nine hours,” Kirk mumbled, running his hands through McCoy’s hair. He had ditched his golds, hiding their weapons beneath it. Spock’s blues had joined it.

The Enterprise had hopefully regained mobility and left seven hours ago.

“Look, Spock,” Kirk dropped his voice to a barely-there whisper. “If anything happens to us here, I just want you to know that I’ve always—”

The door to the room slammed open.

McCoy jerked awake but Kirk took his hand immediately, muttering to him to keep quiet.

A contingent of guards marched in behind their Prince. Now, he wore his hair in a high ponytail and his dark green robe was split open to his navel. He waved half the guards to the other cage, nails a deep gold today. Without hesitation, he drew toward Spock.

“The twin suns beckon, travelers. Today, I would have your Terrans.”