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Cupid's Arrow

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Remember, Cupid's arrow kills Vulcans. -Eraclitus, Plato's Stepchildren

- - -

At the tender age of two minutes and nineteen seconds, James Tiberius Kirk became the youngest living ruler of the Federation Empire. As he was cradled in his mother’s arms, his father was taking an arrow to the chest. As he was gasping his first breath, his father was gasping his last.

Prince George had ridden out with his father and a small army on word that mercenaries from the Land of Romulus was attacking in the Neutral Zone. They had been desperately unprepared to find the mercenary leader, Nero, had amassed an army of thousands upon thousands. Emperor Tiberius fell with the first wave. Crown Prince George Kirk was Emperor for all of twelve minutes, but in that second wave, with a handful of men that should have never been able to cow the Romulans, he succeeded. Before the arrow stole his last breath, he cut the head off the snake. Nero was mortally wounded, the men were retreating, and as George lay along the flank of his horse and watched the light fade from the world, he knew then was leaving a better place for his child to rule.

It would be several weeks before word reached the palace, that the infant James, who had just been presented to the Kingdom for his Name Day, was now the ruler. Winona Kirk would sink to the floor at the side of her bed, her hands fisted in the sheets, vicious sobs wracking her body. She would rise though, as Queen, and announce that her husband’s brother Franklin would rule as interim until her son was old enough to take the throne. And then she would lift what would be her first drink of spirits, though it would most certainly not be her last.

Those long years would see James beaten down by his uncle, sent off to the far off Kingdom of Tarsus and nearly killed by the madman governing. Those long years would see Winona drawing more and more into herself, and James growing more and more bitter and resentful of the throne he must take.

And it’s on his twenty-second birthday, when he has finally reached the age of coronation—surpassing his Uncle, surpassing the expectations of most—that his father’s former advisor, Lord Pike, tells him of what must come next.

“You’re young. But I believe in you. Your father was a good son, and an educated Prince, and he was the most successful Emperor in a long line of Emperors. He ruled the empire for twelve minutes, and he saved it.” He sips his wine and gives James an even look. “People called him the greatest ruler the Empire has ever known.” He leans forward slightly. “I dare you to do better.”

James’ hand curls into a fist over the stem of his goblet, and he stares at Lord Pike. “You know me, Chris. I’m never one to back down from a challenge.”

Chapter Text

Hang on tight and survive. Everybody does.. -Jim Kirk, Charlie X

- - -

“God, will you please get off me, Bones.” Jim shoved at his friend and his healer, wrinkling his nose at the foul smelling vial of something green and full of bits of floating stuff. “I don’t need it.”

“The hell you don’t, sire.” Bones huffed and waggled it under Jim’s nose until the young Emperor sighed, snatching it from the man and gulping it down. It burned viciously and he coughed, eyes watering as he looked at his friend in betrayal. “Really? Is his actually necessary or are you just bored and want to see me suffer.”

The side of Bones’ lip curled into a smirk. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“I could have you executed for treason.”

“Apart from the fact that you outlawed capital punishment ten years ago,” Bones said, sounding bored as he plucked the empty vial from Jim’s hand and dropped it into his supply basket, “you need me too much to dispose of me.”

“I have Christine,” Jim said with a small pout.

Bones cuffed him on the side of the head—possibly the only person in the entire Empire bold enough to be so familiar with the Emperor. “You’re twenty-six. Act like it. And you damn well know puppy eyes don’t work on me.” Which was also a lie, because though Bones did force his god-awful potions on the Emperor to combat the host of allergies and health issues he had from infancy, all Jim had to do was bat his baby-blues and Bones couldn’t help but give in.

Jim huffed and leaned back in his chair, one leg cocked over the arm as he glanced out the window. It was just past daybreak, and only hours before Jim was to meet with his advisors regarding the rumors circulating the nearby kingdoms. Jim tried not to give them too much creed—often times they were just an attempt to scare Jim into unnecessary military action at the borders, weakening their armed forces guarding the cities. But with his past, with the past of their country and the ones surrounding it, it was difficult to ignore the rumor that the Klingon Empire was starting to form an alliance with the Romulans.

Since the death of Jim’s father, little had been heard from the Romulans. The Neutral Zone had remained quiet—not a word or sighting of a single Romulan for the span of over two decades. The Klingons engaged in occasional skirmishes at the North Border, but nothing Jim’s stationed men couldn’t handle. Still, since he could remember, he always felt on the cusp of something—not a feeling he could put words to, but all the same, he’d spent most of his life unsettled.

“…Sire? Jim?”

Jim glanced up and saw Bones’ face drawn and worried. He affected a genial smile, and rose, giving Bones a pat on the shoulder. “I’m fine.”

“Sure,” Bones said uncertainly.

Jim shook his head, then reached for his robe. “It’s going to be a long day is all. Hopefully your little potion will help with that.”

“At the very least, it’ll keep you from going blue in the face and collapsing from whatever fruit those harpies in the kitchen decide to whip up for the midafternoon feast,” Bones said, his irritation plain in his voice.

Jim chuckled, shaking his head. “I’m going to bathe, and I’ll see you later, alright?”

Bones looked like he wanted to protest, maybe shove a few more potions down Jim’s throat and force him to walk about with a string of garlic around his neck, but in the end he waved the Emperor off and gathered his things to go.

Jim quickly undressed, slinging the robe around his shoulders, and made his way toward the baths. He mostly ignored the skeleton staff left in the private corridors, though he offered a few nods to some of the guards he recognized as he slipped into the marble bathing chamber. It was already humid in there, the water heated from the natural spring, and he could see condensation building on the pillars from the steam. He dragged his finger in a spiral pattern along one, then dropped his robe to the ground and eased into the water.

“Sire. Do you require an attendant?” came a quiet voice from the doorway.

Jim tilted his head up to see a young member of the serving staff. He waved her off. “No worries, I’m perfectly fine here.”

Her olive cheeks darkened with a flush, but she boldly took another step in. Her hair—a light brown laying across her shoulders in textured curls, glinted in the ray of sunlight from the high window, making her look like she carried a halo. “It is no hardship, your excellence,” she said, and there was definite suggestion to her voice.

Jim felt the stirrings of something low in his belly. He kept no servant for pleasure, but he was yet unmarried, without a betrothal, and should a woman choose his bed, he would not say no if he was wanting. The staff was well aware that bedding the Emperor would gain them no favor, and no ill-will. He supposed mostly it was his reputation of love-making that gained him so much attention, or perhaps it was the bragging rights to say one had bedded the Emperor.

Whatever the reason, he felt hard-pressed to deny her offer, especially as the day promised length and tedium which would no-doubt have him screaming in his mind before his advisors were close to finished with their speeches. Turning in the water, Jim gave her his sweetest smile, and extended a hand which had already begun to wrinkle from the warm water.

“If you wish to join me, I would not be opposed to company.”

The flush in her cheeks darkened and spread down her neck, but her hands were steady as she removed her robes. Jim hummed with pleasure as his fingers found her hips, and he carefully eased her into the water.

_ _ _

With a slight spring in his step, Jim entered the conference room and ignored the sigh from Lord Pike as everyone stood, and he eased over to his seat. His hair was still wet from the baths, and he sported a round, red mark just under his ear, but he knew none would be bold enough to comment on his impropriety.

“Your Excellencies, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today,” Jim said in his most diplomatic voice. He sat, and the rest followed. “Lord Pike,” Jim said after everyone was settled, “why don’t you begin.”

Pike gave him a long, level stare before clasping his hands near a stack of scrolls which were tied neatly with a blue ribbon. His gaze darted around the table at the representatives from the Empire’s provinces, and the attending ambassadors from Vulcan, Andromeda, and surprisingly, Orion. The latter had been at odds with the Federation Empire since the outlaw of slavery, and in spite of the passing centuries, no middle ground between the two had been achieved. But peace talks were beginning again, which Jim took as a good sign, in spite of the tension in the room.

“Three of my scouts have returned from Romulus,” Pike said carefully, and the room went so quiet Jim could have heard a pin drop. Pike waited a moment, then said, “We have been able to determine that there is discord in the Romulan Empire.”

A quite murmur began in the background, which grew louder until Jim held up a hand. “Go on,” he encouraged.

Pike looked thoroughly annoyed at the hints of chaos which only spoke for more tension as the meeting went on. “The rumors of Nero’s demise twenty years ago may have been exaggerated.”

There was a scoff, and Jim’s head turned to Admiral Komack—one of the men who had served alongside his father. “And you find Lord Pike’s information amusing?”

“More that I find it difficult to believe, sire,” Komack said with a slight sneer. He had made it plain over the years that he did not believe Jim to be a worthy successor of his father. He found him weak in both mind and body, a product of a dead father and a poor guardian in Frank. “If you recall, I was witness to the fatal blow your father struck before he succumbed to his wounds.”

“And yet,” Jim said evenly, “Nero’s people gathered him off before death could be confirmed. Romulus went silent after that, and we were never given definitive proof that Nero perished.”

“It would be impossible to recover from such a blow,” Komack said, eyes narrowing at Jim.

Jim ignored the disrespect and insubordination of his tone as he clasped his hands on the table in front of him. “I believe you mean to say improbable. And though his survival was, indeed, improbable, we must leave room for the possibility. Refusing to do so will leave us weak.”

Komack’s mouth opened to speak, but another voice sounded over his—one unfamiliar to Jim. A tall man with broad shoulders, a severe hair-cut, pointed years and upturned brows. Much like the Romulans, except the dark robes and blue eyelids told of a different species. The Vulcan Ambassador—also new to court. “Vulcan would like to extend its support of Captain Pike’s theory. We, too, have been monitoring the Romulans and we have our own trusted word of the discord. We believe that either Nero, or one who succeeded him, has been amassing another army and plans to use it at one of the nearest borders.”

Jim took that all in. Romulus was bordered by Vulcan, The Federation, and Andoria. Andoria were a small, weak people who dealt in textiles and wines, and would offer little to no benefit should the Romulans attack. It left Vulcan and The Federation as the most likely targets.

“I am to understand then, Ambassador, that’s why you’re here?”

The Ambassador inclined his head once. “I have come to propose an alliance with The Federation in order to protect both our Kingdoms.”

Jim bit the inside of his cheek to keep from blurting out anything ridiculous. In truth, the peace between The Federation and Vulcan had always been thin and fragile, though lately Pike had been hinting around something more with them. Still, Vulcans believed Humans to be inferior—over-emotional and too easily controlled by that. Their ancient, xenophobic habits kept them separate from most of the other races, and that had never sat well with Jim.

However, desperate times called for desperate measures. He glanced at Pike whose face gave nothing away. “Well, Ambassador, I have to say the idea is certainly intriguing, and I am amenable to further discussion. In private.”

The Ambassador looked relived, and surprising Jim, even smiled with the corner of his mouth. “Thank you, sire.”

Jim blinked in surprise, then shrugged. “Of course. Now, we should get back to the topic at hand.”

There was a silence, then the Orion Ambassador said, “I’m still not convinced that we should take the word of a human, and I’m also not convinced that letting the Romulans wipe your race out wouldn’t be the best thing for everyone else in the Known Realm.”

And in that moment, the predicted chaos ensued.

_ _ _

Jim pressed the cool goblet to the side of his temple, the sound of his chamber door slamming still ringing in his ears. He felt like he’d been locked inside the conference chambers for years rather than hours, and the tension in his shoulders wasn’t going to fade any time soon.

Gulping the wine, he felt the slight burn in his throat, and sighed when there was a short rapping on the door. His moments of peace would be few and far between for as long as the delegation remained at the palace. He allowed himself another moment of reprieve before ordering the doors opened.

Pike strolled in with a scowl on his face, and waited until the doors had shut before he spoke. “Komack was on the verge of treason, Jim.”

The use of his familiar name instead of his title was only a little startling. Jim, however, took no offense to the man who had mentored him when he was far too young, and far too vulnerable, to be assuming the title of Emperor. He crossed the room and laid both hands on Pike’s shoulders. “I will deal with him.”

“He holds too much land, and too much of the economy to make an enemy of him,” Pike said softly.

“And I am his Emperor,” Jim reminded the former Captain. “I’m ordering him to take a delegation back with him. For protection, of course,” Jim said with a small wink.

Pike couldn’t seem to help a soft chuckle. “You’re impossible.”

“And that’s what makes me so good at what I do,” Jim said, shrugging as he stepped back. He seized his goblet again, draining it of what remained of the wine. “Now, this Vulcan Ambassador…”

At that, Pike’s cheeks went faintly pink, which told him he was already privy to the information.

“How much am I going to hate this?”

Pike let out a small breath, crossing his arms and squaring his shoulders which then told Jim he was prepared to take a stand and force the issue if need be. “You are twenty-six and unmarried…”

“Oh no,” Jim said, immediately throwing up his hands. “First of all, you’re not going to throw some princess into my bed. Secondly, not a damn Vulcan princess!”

Pike raised a brow. “Since when are you fussy about race, James?”

“I’m…not. I’m fussy about people who think they’re better than I am simply because they’re Vulcan,” Jim retorted.

Pike watched him, a faint line of amusement tilting up the corners of his mouth. “Well…I never said it was a princess.”

Jim blinked at him.

“Emperor Sarek’s second born son will not be ascending the throne. He has chosen to abdicate his title as crown prince to his illegitimate half-brother, Sybok.”

Jim’s eyes widened. “He what? Why?”

“I don’t have the specifics. Vulcan has been incredibly secretive about their royal line and their society. However, they’re offering something here that we never thought possible, Jim. And their standing military is almost double ours. You’ve been avoiding marriage this entire time, Jim, but that can’t last.”

Jim knew that. He was profoundly aware that he would need to take a spouse at some point, but a Vulcan one? A Vulcan Prince…? “Heirs? Can Vulcan males produce heirs?”

“I don’t believe so, but The Federation doesn’t put as much weight on bloodline as others do. You can bed whomever you wish. That hasn’t stopped you before.”

Jim’s face went slightly flushed, and he rolled his eyes, looking away from Pike. “I don’t know about this. I don’t like it.”

“I didn’t think you would, but I’m telling you as your closest advisor, as your father’s dearest friend, and someone who loves you as I would have loved my own son,” Pike’s voice went quiet, sincere, and soft, “this will save our land if Nero truly lives, and if his military is as grand as I’m led to believe.”

Jim felt his stomach sink, because he trusted Pike, and knew the man was right. He turned and looked at him. “What do we do? I mean, apart from the marriage thing which…fine. I’ll…think about it seriously. But Nero.” His whole body shuddered at the idea the man his father had given up his life to destroy still lived, still posed a threat to Jim, and his people. “What do we do?”

“We fight. We learn everything we can, and we fight him. We can be more clever than he is. He’s angry, Jim, and he wants to destroy you. Angry men will make mistakes.” Pike rubbed a hand down his face. “We start training, we recruit, and we keep it as secret as we can. Meanwhile you welcome your new husband to the Empire, you crown him Prince Consort, and rely on him for diplomacy.”

“Vulcans and diplomacy seems a bit…ironic,” Jim stated with a slight scoff.

“Don’t write them off too quickly,” Pike warned. “I happen to know the Prince and he’s not…everything you might think he is.”

Jim highly doubted that, but he trusted Pike. “Alright. Then show the Ambassador in, and let’s begin talk of this treaty.

Chapter Text

Well, you'll find that I am magnanimous to friends and merciless to enemies. - Whom Gods Destroy

- - -

Nervous energy kept Jim pacing as Pike left to arrange a meeting with the Vulcan Ambassador. He felt trapped in his head, and trapped by the decision he would have to make which admittedly might be the only chance they had to defeat Nero if what Pike’s spies were telling him. And to this point, Pike’s spy information had always held true.

Which meant that Jim was facing a potential marriage to a Prince from a race who felt Jim’s species was below them. The entire thing made his stomach twist with apprehension. It was true, marrying a man would take the pressure off consummating the marriage—or at least proving whether or not they had done so. No heirs would be expected, and Jim’s behavior didn’t have to change. All it would truly mean was playing nice with a Vulcan in public from time to time.

All the same, Jim had hoped to squeeze out a few more years before he was put into the position of choosing a spouse, and there had been a ridiculous, romantic part of him who had hoped to marry for love. His parents had—for all that had ended in tears and his mother holing herself up in the Northern part of the Kingdom for most of his life. But all the same, when he was little he would hear long tales of Winona and George’s epic romance, and he had always envisioned that for himself.

Before Jim could spiral too deep into worry, there was a knock at the door, and then one of his guards announcing a presence. “Lady Nyota Uhura, Ambassador to the Vulcans.”

Jim blinked, then realized she was Ambassador to, not of. He recalled appointing her several years back at Pike’s behest, and when she stepped into the room clad in long, Vulcan robes, her hair pulled back into a severe, complicated twist, he remembered her. She had been younger then, the spirit of youth like a wildfire in her dark eyes. Now she was the product of diplomacy, not a hint of emotion on her face as she folded her hands behind her back and inclined her head.

“Your Greatness,” she began, and Jim’s eye twitched. He understood propriety and the need for certain titles, but that one had always gotten under his skin. It was yet to be earned. But he did not correct her.

“Lady Uhura, you honor me with your presence.”

The corner of her mouth twitched up. “You’ve certainly outgrown your…youthful exuberance.”

Jim frowned, but it was in that moment he recalled the first time they had truly met. Jim had been in breeches and a shirt only half done, without any of his proper vestments. He’d snuck down to the kitchens after a long meeting where he’d been viciously berated for his inability to possess any diplomacy when dealing with foreign dignitaries, and he needed something stronger than the wine served with his evening meal.

The Lady Uhura had been there, just prior to her assignment in Vulcan, drinking with a couple of the scullery maids. Jim had seen her, head fuzzy with drink, and he’d said things which had embarrassed him the following day when he stood before court and given her a new title. He recalled the way she had politely, but sharply, rebuked his favor—not knowing who she was.

Before she departed for Vulcan, he had pulled her to the side. “Would you have given another answer had you known who I was?”

Her eyes widened, then narrowed. “Not even if my Ambassadorship depended on it.”

“It wouldn’t have,” he said, trying his most charming smile.

It did not endear him further to her. “Highness, if I may be so bold as to speak freely?” and he gave her a quick wave to do just that. “You will find yourself the laughing stock of the Known Realm if you do not learn to curb your…impulses. And you will not find your way to anyone’s heart if you do not learn to curb your tongue.”

It was all but a slap to the face and Jim had loved her in the first few months of her absence. Then, as a busy Emperor was wont to do, he promptly forgot her until this very moment.

“Are you here to mediate the exchanged between myself and the Ambassador?” Jim asked, gesturing for her to sit.

As was her station, she waited for him to take his chair first, then adjusted her robes before easing into the plush, cushioned seat. “Captain Pike thought it might be prudent to speak to you before you meet with the Ambassador,” she said, and steepled her fingers in the way he had seen the Vulcan do before. It was clear the other race had a profound influence on her now, though he supposed it was not so surprising after this many years. “He said that as I have gained the ear and something of a friendship with the Prince, I might ease your mind.”

Jim hadn’t considered that, and fought the urge to pounce on the offer like a hungry lion. He took a breath, then nodded. “That would be most helpful, my Lady.”

“Be warned I may not answer. The Vulcans are fiercely protective of their race, and I can’t give you what would wouldn’t be freely given.”

He tamped down on his disappointment, and instead nodded. “I understand. Mostly I…mean to ask an opinion of you.”

She seemed startled, but nodded. “Of course.”

“I do not want to let rumor cloud my judgement about the Prince,” Jim began carefully. “I am aware of my own reputation amongst the other rulers of the Realm, and while some may be based in truth from my younger, more…impish years,” he said, and ignored the way she snorted with repressed laughter—honestly he couldn’t blame her for it, “I like to think I have transcended such impropriety. I do fear, however, that a Vulcan would be miserable in a human court.”

“The Prince is…” She stopped, hesitating on her words. “The Prince is fully Vulcan in his mannerisms and upbringing, in spite of outside influence in the royal court.” Jim nodded, assuming he meant herself and her presence there for the last five years. “But he is by no means weak, nor is he a sort who would be willing to live in misery for the sake of his Kingdom.”

“There’s no chance you could tell me why he’s abdicated his title, is there?” Jim pressed.

Uhura’s lips thinned and after a moment, she shook her head. “Perhaps after some time, after some trust, he will divulge his own personal reasons for doing what he did.”

“I just,” Jim said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t understand why he would agree to the title of Prince Consort, to be my husband and rule a foreign Empire when he was given one by right of birth.”

The Lady sighed. “There is a reason, and for now, Highness, you may need to trust that it is a logical one.”

Jim couldn’t argue with that, though he wanted to. He wanted to give into a childish impulse to stomp his feet and order Uhura to tell him everything she knew. How was he supposed to marry a total stranger whose entire species relied on logic, but whose actions seemed so apart from it. He was only to trust that this Prince had made the choice for the betterment of himself and his kingdom? A prince willing to give up his own throne to an illegitimate brother, only to take a position on a human one?

And yet, he could tell by her face that no amount of orders or cajoling would move her. He supposed that’s why she was chosen to be Ambassador in the first place.

With a sigh, Jim sat back and shrugged. “If you think he can be happy here…”

“Happiness is an emotion Vulcans do not entertain, Highness,” she said, and there was a personal twinge to her voice, a hurt that he hadn’t expected to hear. “Therefore you cannot base your decision on whether or not he will attain happiness. He will find the marriage logical, and in that, will find contentment.”

Jim bit his lip, then said, “Is there anything I should know?”

Uhura smiled, a real, bright grin. “Yes, your Highness, there is. You are a great leader, that is not often matched. But I think in the Prince, you are.”

She left him with that, and more questions now than he had before. But she also left him with his mind made up. In spite of how the meeting with the Ambassador would go, Jim had made up his mind. He was going to offer his hand to the Prince of Vulcan.

_ _ _

With his head swimming from all the information he’d been forced to deal with, Jim managed to escape just after the banquet. There was a sharp chill to the air, but his cloak was warm, and the gardens were in full bloom making the evening breeze sweet. He walked around a familiar, winding path, lit bright by the moonlight along the white flagstones, and found his way into the circular gardens.

As he rounded the bend, he spotted a soft light, and came to a halt when he saw a woman kneeling over one of the flowering bushes, pulling clippings from the underside.

“You know it was once considered an act of treason, stealing from the royal gardens.”

The woman made a soft, startled noise, and pushed to her feet. She wore a soft blue dress, wrapped in a rich, red cloak, and her golden hair was done at the nape of her neck in an elaborate twist. Her eyes were bright, light-colored and narrowed with a fierce determination and intelligence. He’d seen that look before, on women like his mother, on women like Uhura, and he found himself enjoying being under her immediate scrutiny.

“Your Grace,” she said, nodding her head in deference.

“Have we met?” Jim questioned.

“Not in person, no.” She extended her hand, palm-down, and he quickly took it up, pressing her knuckles to his chapped lips. “I was brought in by Leonard to assist him with a few new medicines from the garden.” Her accent told Jim she was from the far west, and her appointment by Bones meant she was well educated.

“Might I have a name to go with such a face?” he pressed.

There was a faint blush to her cheeks, visible in the dim light of her lamp. “Forgive me, your Grace. My name is Carol Marcus.”

Jim’s eyes went wide. “The General’s daughter?”

Something in her face darkened, but she nodded all the same as she retracted her hand. “The same.”

Jim could hardly blame her, truthfully. His dealings with General Marcus remained few and far between. Very few in Jim’s close circle trusted the man, and it was by lineage and ownership of land that afforded him his title and power. Jim kept him far from the Capital, and allowed his stern hand over his lands, and none other. He was startled to find such a fierce intelligence, or willingness to work in the Palace from his daughter.

“I’m grateful work has brought you this way. I didn’t see you at the banquet.” He started to walk, and she fell in step beside him. A good sign, he decided.

Her mouth curved in a gentle smile. “I am…often not myself with diplomats,” she said. “My father’s biggest critique of my upbringing. Suppose I was never meant to be a Lady of the Court.”

Jim snorted and lifted his elbow, considering it a small victory when her hand curled into the inside. “That is something to be worn with pride, Miss Marcus. Ladies of the Court are often not what they appear to be. You, on the other hand, have an honest face.”

“Or perhaps you are easily fooled, your Grace,” she said, her tone making it clear she spoke in jest.

Jim’s eyes widened. “You do take liberties.” Then a pause. “I’m fond of it.”

Her smile widened just a fraction. “Do you have an interest in plants, your Grace?”

Jim took a breath of the night air, his gaze roving around the lush greens. “Not as such. My father built these gardens for my mother. Before she came to live here, there was naught but a small orchard, and she wished for more. He wanted to give her the world. He could not, of course, so he gave her a garden.”

Carol looked up at the blanket of stars, then back at Jim. “Luckily, most want far less than a world.”

Jim paused in his steps, and put his other hand on top of hers in a clear invitation. “Maybe we could start with a night?”

“That is forward, your Grace.”

Jim stepped into her space, letting his hand move to her cheek, just the tips of his fingers brushing the skin there. “I do not mean to offend.”

She shook her head, letting desire pool in her eyes. “You mistake my words. I take no offense. In fact, I prefer it.” She hesitated, then said, “But only for a night. I am to return home a fortnight from now.”

As Jim had accepted the Vulcan treaty, and as he would be packing to leave himself, two weeks from that night to meet his betrothed, and to begin preparations to crown a new Prince Consort, just a night seemed fitting. “Yes,” he finally breathed, stepping in so close his breath pushed past her cheeks. “For a night. But let us make it a memorable one.”

_ _ _

“You’re a damned fool, letting Pike talk you into this,” Bones groused, slapping a vial into Jim’s hand. “And drink that.”

Jim scrunched his nose, but the smell coming from this potion was far less vile, and he tipped it down. It had a honey-thick texture and almost savory taste to it. Not the worst that had ever been shoved down his throat. “It makes sense, Bones,” Jim said, and laid on his front so Bones could finish his cursory check of ribs after his training. He was sore, but was fairly sure nothing was broken. “Our standing army is smaller than Vulcan’s, and will have no chance against Nero if Pike’s men are right.”

Bones’ hands, coated with a thick, effervescent paste, stilled in their motions. “And you really believe them?”

“They’ve never led me astray before.” Jim closed his eyes, letting his breath come out as shaky as he dared. “I…my father gave his life to stop Nero. If I sit here and do nothing, allow my Kingdom to become blindsided…”

“I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand.” Bones turned him again, and slapped the salve on a particularly nasty bruise along his shoulders he’d received from his Lieutenant Scott—Master of Arms. “I’ve known you since you were knee-high, Jimmy, and you might be my Emperor, but you’re also family.”

“I know,” Jim said softly, pushing up on his elbows.

Bones backed away, wiping his hand on a cloth and stoppering his salve. “I had hoped that what your father went through—what you and your mother endured after his death—was enough payment to that madman.”

Jim closed his eyes as an ancient but all-too familiar pain washed over him. He had many moments now where he could forget his past, but it was always lurking in the shadows. “I have to do this. I don’t have a better option.”

Bones reached a hand and helped Jim to stand, grabbing at his robe so he could slide his arms in. “But Vulcans? Jim…they’re…green-blooded, emotionless hobgoblins.”

Jim considered the Ambassador—his easy nature which was startling to Jim, and nothing like he expected. “I don’t know. I think our judgment of them may have been clouded.”

Bones’ face went pinched with irritation, making Jim want to laugh. “Don’t tell me it was all laughter and smiles in that meeting of yours.”

Jim rolled his eyes as he sank into his chair and plucked a dried date from the tray of fruit a servant had brought in earlier. He nibbled on the corner and shrugged. “It wasn’t exactly laughter, but he wasn’t…” Jim hesitated. “Maybe he’s not like the rest, I don’t know. Maybe the Prince is going to be a prudish, uptight pain in the ass. But I don’t need to like him, I just need to marry him.”

Bones huffed, then shoved the jar of salve at Jim. “Take this with you. I have a feeling you’re going to need it.”

Jim rolled his eyes, but took the jar and tossed it to the side. “Fine. And anyway I’ll be back before you know it.”

“It had just better be in one piece, sire,” Bones said, his eyes narrowed and serious. “And if they try anything with you, I’ll cross the border my damn self.”

Jim laughed, rising to clap his hand on Bones’ shoulder. “I know you will, old friend. I’ve never doubted that for a minute.”

_ _ _

“Six weeks,” Jim said to Bones, then mounted his horse. His entire retinue was already at attention, waiting for his signal. “Six weeks, and then I’ll be home.”

“And not a day later. The last thing anyone wants is a war before the war,” Bones said darkly.

Jim laughed as he adjusted his armor, then turned his horse to face the gates. “Trust me. This is all going to work out exactly to plan.”

He pretended like he didn’t hear his doctor’s last words, dripping with irony as he rode out. “You tell yourself that, Jimmy. Famous damn last words.”

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, James Kirk would have been a well-travelled royal. Once upon a time, he was, and then he had been abandoned in Tarsus and was nearly starved to death, and no one blamed him after that for his fear of traveling past the borders into unfamiliar lands.

Jim supposed that the stark, almost vicious heat of the Vulcan lands would be far less surprising if he’d managed to get past his fear and attend diplomacy across the borders. He feels that perhaps he failed himself in his own education for not understanding that it would be possible to have such a stark change in climate simply by crossing into a land that is not his own.

The journey was long and arduous, seven long days on horseback before they were greeted by the Vulcan guard at The Wall. With the Ambassador leading the traveling party, their papers were inspected, and they were granted swift entrance. They made camp quickly in the jagged mountains only a half day’s ride from the border, but it felt like an eternity with the sun beating down on them, without moisture in the air, without reprieve from the endless summer.

Upon making camp, Jim was presented with Vulcan robes from the Ambassador, no flourish or pomp when it came to the gift-giving, just a simple explanation. “They are designed to keep your body cool and aerated, to prevent loss of water as we understand your bodies are not as adept as ours to this climate.”

Jim has worn ridiculous garments for the sake of holiday and festival. Though they’re not something he preferred, he accepted the gift with grace and cannot help but admit that the Ambassador was not wrong in his description. The moment the robes were upon his body, he felt lighter and cooler than before.

“This is…amazing technology,” Jim marveled. He turned this way and that in an attempt to see how it worked, as his curiosity had always been endless. He glanced up to find amusement in the Ambassador’s face—yet another surprise. He was unable to help himself when he asked, “You’re not a usual Vulcan, are you, Ambassador?”

The Ambassador gave him a long, careful look. “I…am not like most of my kind. I admit that your exaggerated views of our people have been allowed to linger in Vulcan’s attempt to discourage others from integrating into our society, however your beliefs about us are not entirely superstition. We are a cold people, we value logic above all else, to the exclusion of nearly all emotion. There are others more like me, but I have always been viewed as an anomaly.”

Jim cocked his head to the side. He knew very little about this Ambassador—was told his name would be too difficult to pronounce, and thus went solely by his title. He was clearly chosen as the best man to breech the void between Vulcans and Humans, but Jim wondered if perhaps he was being under-prepared for what he was to face. All the same, he could not help but like the Ambassador.

“Do you believe the Prince will suffer in my empire?”

The Ambassador’s almond-shaped eyes went wide, as though he had not expected such a question. “Is that a concern of yours, Your Grace?”

Jim frowned. “Of course it is. I understand this is a marriage of politics and convenience—for the greater good of our two lands. But…I would not want marriage to me to create misery in my intended. Since we’ve crossed the border, everything has been utterly alien to me, and I worry.”

The Ambassador took a while, considering Jim’s words. “I believe that the Prince will find as much satisfaction living in The Federation Empire as he does in Shi’Kahr.”

It was an evasive answer, and Jim knew better than to press the issue. For the moment, at least. “Do you know him well?”

At that, the faintest upturn of the Ambassador’s lip curled into what could be a smile. “I have known him most of his life, your Grace. Like myself, he is an anomaly, but in a very different way.”

“That can’t be a bad thing,” Jim decided. He grinned at the Vulcan. “What would the fun be, after all, if we were all what the world expected of us.”

“Indeed.” The Ambassador clasped his hands behind his back, then quickly took his leave.

_ _ _

The ride to the capital took three days, made far easier by the new garments and following the Ambassador’s exact instruction. A traveling party ahead dealt with a few beasts—natural predators of Vulcan. Jim’s curiosity had him dying to ride to the front, but he knew there would be no sense in putting himself in that sort of danger simply to see a wild beast. He allowed himself to be regaled with the tale of the green-blooded, green-skinned beast with the poisoned fangs. No one had been injured, but it had been a close call.

The ride became boring swiftly after the attack, and Jim was all-but crawling out of his skin by the time the large spires of the Vulcan capital appeared on the horizon. They were coming out of the rocky mountain pass, a full view of the city below, and beyond that the fiery, smoky plumes of ash and smoke from the Vulcan Forge.

Jim could see the palace from where they stood, which looked apart from the buildings only by the large tower to the East. He glanced at the Ambassador’s face, but he showed no emotion now that they were moving into the city.

The people were far different than his own. Every visit to any border, Jim was met with a welcoming parade, with laughing and waving children, and a small feast in his honor. He met smiling faces with his own grin, and threw coins and received favors from his subjects. Here, in the streets of Shi’Kahr, they were met with flat expression and head-nods, and the occasional Vulcan hand-greeting Jim still did not understand.

But no more than that.

Logic told him it was not a lack of respect for the royal party, but merely a cultural difference. However, it did nothing to dissuade his feeling of unwelcome, and his fear that this would be far from a match made in heaven.

Jim rode closely to the Ambassador, with Lady Uhura at his side. He noticed that she, too, wore a simple, flat expression, giving nothing away. He wanted to ask, but for fear of breaking some sort of social protocol, Jim kept his mouth shut and merely took in everything he could on their journey to the palace.

The Royal Family stood at the top of the steps to the Palace to greet them. Jim’s heart was all-but in his throat as they approached, and he narrowed his eyes in an attempt to see better, to take them all in.

Sarek—the Emperor, stood in the front, flanked on his right by a woman wearing Vulcan robes and a heavy veil which covered all but the roundness of her face. To the left, Jim assumed was the son he was to marry. Tall, thin, broad-shouldered with the same style of hair most Vulcan men wore. His robes were well-fitted, and his posture was befitting of a prince once-raised to rule a Kingdom. Jim studied his face—his angles sharp, his brows tilted upward, his eyelids a soft blueish green. His mouth was full, the cupid’s bow defined, though there was no curve of a smile the way the Ambassador held. He was good looking, there was no denying that, though the proof of that brought Jim no real comfort.

Their horses all came to a stop, and Jim dismounted with Uhura at his side. The Ambassador was first to approach, holding up his hand, speaking in rapid Golic which Jim had no hope of understanding.

“What is that he’s doing with his hand?” Jim asked.

The Lady Uhura held up her own. “It is called the ta’al. It’s the Vulcan way of greeting. They do not touch the way humans do,” she warned him. “They are…sensitive to it.”

Jim had a feeling there was something more than just sensitivity, but perhaps it was yet another secret the Vulcans had kept to themselves. It was no matter. He knew enough now not to offer his hand to any of them, and he quickly practiced spreading his first and middle finger away from ring and pinky. It was no easy feat, but by the time the Ambassador and guards made way for him, he felt his was passable.

He held it up as he approached, and bowed his head first in a show of deference to a Emperor on his own soil. “Your Greatness,” Jim said.

The Emperor did not look impressed, though Jim realized that with their lack of expression, it would be damn-near impossible to tell if he was. All the same, he held his salute back. “Your presence honors us, Emperor Kirk.” He turned to his left. “My son, S’chn T’gai Spock, and she who is my wife, the Lady Amanda.”

Jim took in the woman, beautiful in what showed of her face. Her eyes were unlike most Vulcans—more round, and a softer blue. She shared the same full mouth as her son, though it quirked up—just barely—into a smile.

“Emperor Kirk, it is a great pleasure to host you here,” she said. Her Standard was not nearly as accented as the Emperor’s.

“My lady,” Jim said. He felt like he was breaking a strict code of ethics, not kissing her hand, but he fought back his blush, and said nothing as Emperor Sarek drew everyone inside.

Jim realized, as they followed behind, he had not been personally introduced to his intended, and he wondered if that was protocol, or if perhaps the Prince was as hesitant as Jim was about this union.

_ _ _

They were not given a palace tour so much as shown to their rooms and promised that after they partook in the meal, they would meet to discuss the preliminary treaty and any possible amendments that would need to be made. The Ambassador disappeared just after they entered the palace, and it was a set of guards with strange armor that showed Jim to his quarters. He allowed his own retinue to inspect the place before he walked in, and he was surprised to find the place not only cozy, but cool from a breeze coming through high, open windows.

When he was alone, and the door shut firmly, Jim collapsed on the soft bed and allowed himself just a few minutes to close his eyes.

He woke what felt like hours later when one of his guards roused him. “The Lady Uhura to see you, your Grace.”

Jim scrubbed a hand down his face, wished viciously that Bones was here with him, then composed himself before signaling her in. She entered with the same power and poise as before, though she wore dressier robes which he assumed was for their evening meal. She assessed him with a long look, then eased down into the chair after he sat.

“Vulcans do not discuss matters over meals,” she began carefully. “And by this I mean no matters at all. Their logic dictates that food is for sustenance alone, and that diplomacy and conversation should occur only when the body’s needs are satisfied.”

Jim’s eyebrows went up, but he nodded. “Alright. No small talk.”

“Similarly, it is taboo and considered extremely vulgar to use ones hands for anything other than utensils. That includes things that traditionally our people would eat with their hands.”

“So use my fork for literally everything.”

Her eyes went narrowed with amusement, her lip curled in a grin. “They use what is called yem-tukh terpau.” She reached into her pocket and retrieved two long, thin pieces of painted wood. “It takes a short while to master the skill, and I do not believe they would find offense if there was a struggle from human guests.” She reached across the table where a small bowl of fruit had been placed for his refreshment, and with a deft motion—both sticks in her fingers—she plucked a piece from it and placed it on her tongue.

Jim’s eyes widened further. “And I’m to…use this.”

She chuckled quietly under her breath. “It is not as complicated as it seems.” She held them out, then gave a quick instruction how to balance one, then use the other to manipulate the food into a hold.

Half an hour later, Jim could manage food to his mouth one of four times. He was clearly going to make an ass of himself, but there was little he could do to change that.

“Don’t look so worried,” the Lady said, rising as he did, “you’re going to be fine. Vulcans find no logic in the mocking of others, especially those who are unfamiliar with their culture. Your husband-to-be will not find you lacking.”

Jim was not so sure about that, but the Lady had given him no reason not to trust her. “Thank you for your assistance.”

She smiled beatifically. “It was my pleasure, your Grace. If you will accompany me, I believe they will be expecting us presently.”

Jim nodded, swallowed back his nerves, and followed the Lady to the banquet.

_ _ _

Lady Uhura had not exaggerated when she mentioned there was no fanfare or conversation during Vulcan meals. They even went as far as to refrain from formal announcement when Jim entered the room, or further introduction to the Vulcan Nobles who sat at the head table with Emperor Sarek and his family.

Jim was sat to the Prince’s left, and Uhura just after him, and although the stark and utter silence felt utterly alien to him, he realize in a way, it could be comforting. There was no demand to behave a certain way, to adhere to social protocol and entertainment. He could simply enjoy his meal.

Which would have been easier, he realized, had he been given more time to practice. The food was cut into small, easy to reach pieces, however with Jim’s nerves at being observed, he fumbled far more than he had with the Lady.

It was to the point he was humiliated, and then the softest voice spoke at his right in Golic. Jim flushed and glanced over to find the Prince staring at him with questioning eyes. Uhura leaned in and said, “He’s requesting that he be allowed to aid you, your Grace.”

“Oh,” Jim said, his voice sounding painfully loud in the silence of the room. “Yes, thank you. How do I express my thanks.”

“Th’i-oxalra,” Nyota muttered.

Jim attempted to repeat the phrase, and saw a high, green flush on the Prince’s cheek. However the Prince nodded and then carefully touched Jim’s hand. There was a collective silence even thicker than before, and it was clear some social faux pas had been committed—the hand thing, he assumed. However the Prince did not falter, instead correcting Jim’s grip with lithe, strong fingers.

Jim tried once more, and found his ability to grasp the food flawless. He repeated the thanks, and the Prince merely nodded, returning to his own meal.

As was custom in his own kingdom at his own table, when Emperor Sarek was finished, the meal was over. Jim was desperately ready to be free of the silence, so when the servants came to clear it all away, Jim happily rose after the Vulcan ruler, and did not hesitate in following the procession to a large ballroom.

There was soft music playing, something twanging and ethereal, and after a moment, Jim spotted several Vulcans clad in long, flowing silks, sitting on chairs playing something which looked a bit like a harp. He had never heard such sounds before, and he startled when a voice spoke near him.

“It is called a lyre.”

Jim turned and saw the Ambassador, though he looked far more casual in lighter robes, and a gold circlet on his brow. “It’s beautiful.”

“Most of our people are trained in the art. It is a way of expressing one’s self without…indulging beyond what is logical.” There was a hint of disdain in his voice.

Jim cocked his head to the side. “Are there other art forms?”

“Dance,” the Ambassador said. “You may well be treated, your Grace. We are not a people of exhibition, but we are a people of long-standing tradition, and often times dance and music are part of ceremony.”

“Emperor Kirk,” came another voice, and Jim turned to see Sarek approaching, his hands clasped behind his back. The Prince was nowhere to be found, and Jim felt a surge of disappointment at the lost chance to know his betrothed.

Jim bowed a greeting. “Your Grace.” He hesitated, then said, “I apologize for my conduct at the meal. I am still unfamiliar with your customs.”

“Your conduct was befitting a human,” Sarek said, and before Jim could get properly insulted, he said, “I find no illogic in your behavior. It was most expected, and as offense was not intended, none was taken.”

Jim felt his cheeks pink, and he glanced away.

“I am pleased you have found companionship in my son, and I do hope that his information has been beneficial to your arrival here.” Sarek had one eyebrow lifted.

Jim frowned at him. “The only time I’ve had any contact with the Prince was at the table when he…”

“I refer to my eldest. Crown Prince Sybok.” Sarek nodded to the Ambassador, and the realization hit Jim.

“He’s your…” He turned to the other Vulcan. “You’re assuming the tile of Crown Prince.” It was not a question.

For his part, Sybok looked outwardly uncomfortable. “It was logical I do so, your Grace. My apologies for not informing you sooner, but out of concern for my safety…”

Jim waved him off. “I understand,” because he did. A Crown Prince in a foreign land without the protection of an armed guard would be like walking around in enemy territory with a screaming bull’s eye sat upon your back. “Had I known, perhaps I would not have been so casual.”

Sybok’s mouth quirked up. “It was most refreshing, your Grace. Now if you will excuse me…” He was gone before Jim could say another word, so he turned back to Sarek.

“My counsel awaits us,” Sarek said. “We will begin negotiations promptly.”

There was clearly no sway with him, so Jim quickly sought out his advisors, giving them the signal it was time. They were in formation almost immediately, and as Jim walked out, he attempted to catch a glimpse of the missing Prince.

His absence was keenly noted, and as Jim passed through the door into the counsel chambers, he swore that for a moment, he could feel a ghost of a touch where the Prince had taken his hand.

Chapter Text

“Clearly no heir is to be expected,” Pike said, making himself known at the forefront of Jim’s advisors. He was dressed in Federation red robes, hands clasped behind his back as he faced off with Emperor Sarek. “As such, to create a consummation addendum…”

“It is not a consummation addendum,” Sarek said. He clasped his hands behind his back and gave Pike an even look. “It is unrelated to the marriage ceremony and it…” Sarek went silent as he glanced back at his wife who nodded at him. Sarek raised his hand, making a strange, sharp series of motions, and the room was suddenly empty apart from Sarek, his wife, Jim, and Lord Pike.

Jim half-rose from his chair in alarm, but Pike’s hand held for him to be still, to be patient. It dawned on Jim that information was about to be given in this room which was not shared with outsiders.

“We are aware that your species lacks cultural information regarding ours, and that has been the policy of our Empire since the time of Surak,” Sarek began. He resumed his seat, clutching at the ornate arms. It was the most outward stress Jim had yet seen him display. “It was necessary to protect our people. We have an innate ability to connect to the minds of others through touch, and with this comes the necessity to form mental bonds with our chosen. Through the ceremony, minds are linked, and it connects us all as a people.”

“I don’t know what this has to do with his Grace,” Pike said, gesturing toward Jim. “He’s human, he can’t possibly be expected to participate. It wouldn’t even work.”

Sarek glanced back at his wife again, before turning his attention now to Jim, instead of Pike. “We were uncertain that a Vulcan bond to a human was possible, and it is, indeed difficult to maintain, and it puts a great deal of strain on the Vulcan maintaining the bond. However, it is possible, and it is necessary. If my son is to be married to you, your Grace, he must be bonded. His life depends on it.”

Jim digested this carefully, his eyes roving Sarek’s face in an attempt to tell whether or not he was being truthful. But Vulcans were impossible to read—at least for now, with so little that Jim knew. “If he marries me and we don’t bond, then he dies,” Jim said. “And that bond is created through…copulation.” He flushed lightly.

Sarek bowed his head. “The bond will not be necessary for several years. But understand that bonding—marriage—to my people, is not something to be taken lightly. I do not take consorts, and nor will my son.”

Jim felt his heart begin to race. “I do not understand. In the treaty, it explicitly states that I am allowed consorts to provide an heir.”

“Indeed, and it is not something to be placed upon your head, your Grace,” Sarek said. “It would be the height of illogic to require that you act outside of your nature. We would put no such stipulation on you. However, as you are to be my son’s only mate, if you cannot agree to these terms—to provide at least once every seven years the company of his bed—then we cannot sign the treaty.”

Jim paled. “I’m not saying no. I just wish to understand, Sire. I don’t understand why it is necessary.”

“It is a matter of biology,” the Queen said, her voice reminding Jim of his mother’s, with the power and knowledge behind her tone. “It is difficult for those to understand who are not Vulcan.”

“Alright,” Jim conceded, putting two fingers to his temple and rubbing. “Alright. And you’re certain a bond will work.”

“I am most certain,” Sarek replied.

Jim looked at him sharply. “You say that as if you…” He trailed off as he realized what Sarek was telling him. His eyes flickered over to the Queen, who looked at her husband a long moment. Then she carefully reached up and pulled the veil from her hair. It revealed the round ears, and curved brows of a human.

She was not Vulcan.

Jim felt as though the breath had been punched out of him. “Your son.”

“Prince Spock is half-human,” the Queen said.

Jim licked his lips, then said, “And his brother…”

“I am not Prince Sybok’s mother,” the Queen replied quietly.

The pieces began to connect, clicking into place like a perfectly turned tumbler in a lock. “He’s half-human. He can’t take the crown because he’s half human.”

Sarek’s head bowed slightly. “Against the advice of my counsel, I named Spock crown prince, heir to my throne. It was known I had taken a human mate, and my people indulged me. However, as Spock began to reach maturity, there began a civil unrest. A millennia of xenophobia and distrust of humans did not allow for a half-human to rule the Vulcan people. Had I persisted…” He didn’t finish his sentence, and he let the silence fill in the rest.

There would have been a revolt, and Sarek would have lost his power. Spock would have never been trusted, even if the rebellion had been quashed, and when he took the throne, his days would be numbered.

“This treaty not only helps to protect our people,” Sarek said, looking Jim dead in the eye, “but it also saves my son from my failings.”

Jim glanced at Pike who was slightly pale. “And he’s…he knows all of this? He’s aware of what you’re asking?”

“I would not lead him so blindly into such an arrangement.”

Jim leaned back and dragged a hand over his face. “But to condemn him to me—to never have the chance in the future. I mean…if he met someone, if he fell in love…”

“That is not our way,” Sarek said sharply.

Behind him, Jim saw the Queen’s face fall into something like amusement and resignation, and he had a feeling there was more to it. But all the same, he had no other choice but to trust the Emperor and his wife.

“I will sign it,” Jim said.

Pike quickly interjected. “We must further discuss terms beyond the betrothal.”

“I will leave that to you, then,” Jim said. “For now, this has been most trying and I would like to take my leave. We can discuss this further tomorrow.”

Pike seemed irritated, but he knew when Jim had made up his mind, there was no stopping him. He did not say a word as Jim exited the chambers, passed the guards, and headed straight to his quarters.

_ _ _

It was not unusual for Jim to have a strong bout of restlessness after a day like the one he had just experienced. He attempted a larger than normal portion of wine before getting into his bed, but as the night grew darker, his eyes remained firmly awake, his body aching and restless.

After what felt an eternity, Jim finally rose from the light coverings, donned a thicker Vulcan robe, and slipped out of his quarters. His guards saw him, but he waved them at ease as he passed by. He could feel the tension in them, and didn’t protest when they followed several feet behind him.

It was a comfort, really, one that would not be necessary at home, but in this foreign land, he felt further away than he’d been in years. He quickly made his way to the main chambers, and eventually through a door which led to a wide, expansive desert garden. There were stone benches, and lit torches, and Jim plopped down on one, stretching his feet in front of him.

The night air was far hotter than home, but had cooled considerably. He had heard rumor that in Vulcan, you could not see the moon, and as he scanned through the sea of stars, he found that to be true. What a strange land it was.

A noise roused him from his thoughts, and Jim turned his head to see a figure moving in the dark. His guards were nearby, but as they had not moved, he assumed it was someone familiar. He thought perhaps Lord Pike, or even the Lady Uhura, but instead when the figure stepped into the torch light, he was startled to find the Prince.

Their gazes met, Prince Spock’s sharp as it had been upon first meeting, and in the dining hall. Jim opened his mouth to greet him, but remembered Prince Spock had not spoken a word of Standard, so instead he merely lifted his hand in the Vulcan greeting.

After a time, Spock lifted his own. “Diff-tor heh smusa,” he said.

Jim’s cheeks flushed at the sound of Golic, and he wished he had attempted to learn at least basic, conversational Golic to as not to appear he was not willing to accommodate his husband-to-be. But there would be time for that later. The wedding would be quick, but not so quick he couldn’t employ the Lady Uhura to help him out.

Instead of attempting to answer, Jim shifted and motioned for Spock to sit. He was half sure the Prince would reject his offer, but after a beat, Spock nodded once to show his thanks, then sank down.

“You accepted the treaty,” came the next words, and it startled Jim when he realized they were spoken in Standard.

“You…you speak Standard.”

Spock blinked at him. “By now you have been made aware of my parentage.” His accent was thicker than his brother’s, or his mother’s. “I was taught my mother’s tongue from a young age.”

“Ah.” Jim cleared his throat. “I didn’t realize. I should have. I apologize.”

Spock shook his head. “No apology is necessary, your Grace.”

“Jim,” he corrected, and saw Spock’s cheeks darken. He did not relent on the request. “We are to be married, and though I hold higher station, it would please me.”

“In private, I can acquiesce. Jim,” Spock finally said.

Jim almost laughed, but he didn’t think Spock would appreciate the humor in all of it. As it was, he wasn’t sure the Vulcan felt humor at all. Or anything, besides Vulcan logic. It was strange, once he thought about it. Spock was half human, and yet Sybok, the one who had displaced him, seemed far more human than any of them.

“Is this truly what you want?” Jim finally asked. Spock raised a brow at him, his head tilted slightly to the side, so Jim clarified. “Your father explained to me why abdicating was necessary, but your highness…”

“If I am to call you Jim, would it not then be logical for you to address me by my given name and not title?” Spock interrupted.

Jim choked on his words, then let out a small laugh. “Yes, I suppose it would. I also believe it seems that you are evading my question. Spock.” He looked at the Prince carefully. “I don’t wish you to give yourself to a life of misery at your father’s whim. This place is…” Jim let out a huffing breath, glancing around at the dark, desert garden. “It’s absolutely alien to me. I can’t imagine you would find true solace in my Empire.”

Spock was silent for so long, Jim thought perhaps he wouldn’t answer. Then, after that long moment, Spock said, “I do not seek solace, and misery is a very human emotion, Jim. I will adjust, and I believe that my upbringing, my education, and my training will benefit your Empire. Perhaps this union is not what you envisioned for yourself. Having known my mother, I am aware that most humans desire more than what a Vulcan can give. If you are looking for reason why we should not go forward with it…”

“This isn’t about what I want,” Jim cut in, feeling frustrated. “Spock—I get that Vulcans are different, that you feel but…but it’s not the same as I do. My interests are protected in the treaty, but your father told me that it’s me or nothing. That when we marry that’s…there will be no one else for you. But if you don’t want me…”

“When I was younger,” Spock said, his voice now soft, his eyes trained out over the darkness, “I was bonded to another. T’Pring, a Daughter of the Court. She was most displeased with the union, as she had found a more suitable match in one of our peers. It would have been illogical, however, for her to request the bond be dissolved, as she would have been bonding herself to someone below not only my station, but her own. That year, during a hunt, I was injured by a Le Matya and was nearly killed.” Jim saw Spock’s long fingers touch his hip, then drag down to his thigh. “I did not heal as a Vulcan does, but as a human. Rumor spread that I would be unfit to rule. That due to the nature of my healing, it was only logical to assume I would not live as long as a full Vulcan, and therefore would not be physically able to provide for the Vulcan Empire the way an heir should. Unrest began to grow, and it was logic that dictated I dissolve the bond, free T’Pring, and abdicate my title.”

Jim felt his heart twist in his chest. “I don’t know you, but for what it’s worth, I think they’re wrong.”

“I believe that prejudice runs deep within our race, in ways that are not logical,” Spock admitted. “I believe that there is some danger in my brother taking the throne, for he had never mastered control over his own emotions, and he finds logic to be without true merit. However, should I rebel against the people’s wishes, they will rebel against me. Sybok has agreed to a union, to a mate who will produce a fully Vulcan child and that child will be raised in the ways of Surak. Should my brother fail, there will be an heir to take his place. And with our union, Vulcan will have strong allies, and my people will not succumb to threats outside of our borders.”

Jim understood. He saw it all like a complicated logic puzzle that Spock assembled before his eyes. There was no room for emotion, for fanciful romance and true loves. They had been born to a station which demanded they give the biggest pieces of themselves for the good of their people, even if it meant sacrificing their souls for it.

Jim understood that all too well.

He bowed his head. “I can’t promise you much, Spock, but if anything, I can understand. I don’t know if I would have chosen the throne if I’d been given a choice. But I wasn’t. My father died the day I was born, and this has always been my life. What I can promise is that I will do what I can to make you feel like the sacrifice of your crown and kingdom was not for nothing. You will do my Empire justice and honor.”

“I shall endeavor to do so. Jim.”

Jim swallowed thickly, and he held his hand up in the ta’al. “Vulcans don’t embrace, do they? And they probably don’t kiss, either.”

Spock stared at him, then carefully lifted his own hand, mirroring Jim’s gesture. But before he could drop it, Spock’s hand reached out, a slow, very careful motion. He twisted his hand so that the tips of his fingers touched the backs of Jim’s, then slowly dragged down. Jim’s breath caught in his throat as he felt something—a pulsing pressure in his temple, and right below his left eye, and a rushing feeling running from his fingers to elbow, like a return of blood flow after circulation had been lost.

“Ozh’esta,” Spock said, and dragged two fingers around to press against the inside of Jim’s wrist.

Jim stared at their joined hands, even as Spock pulled away. He had the mad, sudden urge to lean forward, to put a hand to Spock’s face and kiss him the human way. He held it back. “We’re going to bond. Our minds will be…” He hesitated, swallowing thickly. “Will it feel like that.”

“I cannot know,” Spock confessed. “My mother had no words in either of our languages to express the sensation, only that where once it felt alien, now was a great comfort to her. I shall do my best to leave your mind your own. It will only mean that I will be there for you, should you have need of me.”

The irrational thought, I will always need you surfaced in his mind, but Jim had no idea where that had come from. He did not know Spock, not beyond this conversation, and Jim was no young thing in the warmth of his first spring. He did not fall in love so easily—or at all.

He shook his head and stood, stretching the aches in his back. “Remind me to show you the joys of a hot spring when we return to the Federation,” Jim said, and grinned at Spock who looked up at him. “Truly, it is a wonder on sore muscles.”

Spock rose and put one hand to Jim’s back, pressing with his fingers in a strange pattern until the muscles suddenly, and without warning, gave way to relaxation. Jim nearly lost his balance, but Spock’s firm arm kept him upright. “We have other ways of dealing with the aches of the day that do not include wasting our resources.” He went silent, but before Jim could retort, he said, “However I have been introduced to such things. As a child, my mother introduced me to the wide expanse of water when she took me to see her homeland.” Spock for just a moment, looked mildly disgusted. “I did not enjoy it.”

Jim threw his head back and laughed, clapping Spock on the shoulder once. “I bet I can change your mind.”

Spock merely quirked a brow, and said nothing.

After a beat, Jim removed his hand. “Thank you for this. I…I had been struggling with my decision, but I do feel we have made the right choice. For both of us.”

“Indeed,” Spock said.

“I’ll sign the treaty tomorrow, and after that, we will make arrangements for the wedding, and your journey to the Capital.”

Spock bowed his head once, then stepped away from Jim. “Until tomorrow, your Grace.”

Jim sighed, but bowed back. “Sleep well, your highness.” He didn’t feel completely at ease, but his mind had been relieved of some of the burden. And so had the muscles in his back. He wasn’t sure what his future with Spock was to be like, but for that short moment, it no longer felt oppressively dark.

Chapter Text

Jim has put his seal and signature on possibly thousands of documents since he was old enough to take possession of the Empire. He did it so often, it was second nature. When he was twenty, he spent a year learning to sign his name backward, only to give a little twist to the monotony of paperwork.

But right then, that one treaty, that one agreement, felt like the most important document Jim had ever signed. Seeing his name there, and then S’chn T’gai Spock, Prince of the Vulcan Empire just below, felt a heavier weight than Jim had ever bore. And yet, no other weight felt as important, nor had he ever been more willing. He and Spock didn’t look at each other, nor had they spoken more than the perfunctory greetings during meetings and gatherings post-meal. Jim had spent his time going over the plans, and instructing the garrison he was leaving behind to exchange battle techniques with the Vulcan army.

And then the moment was over, and suddenly there was one more addition to their party. Spock rode along side Jim, stiff-backed and formal as he ever was. He gave absolutely no indication that leaving his homeland caused him any pain—any emotion at all. Jim couldn’t allow himself to forget that Spock was Vulcan, that in spite of his human heritage, he had dedicated himself to the Vulcan way, which gave logic reign over emotion. However, Jim worried that internally, Spock suffered.

He should not care, of course. This was not a marriage of love, but of convenience and strategy. Spock’s comfort should be the least of his worries.

“You had mentioned an injury,” Jim said after a time on the road. “Are you well enough to ride this long? I assure you the wagons are perfectly comfortable.”

“I am not in physical distress, your Grace,” Spock replied shortly.

Jim winced, realizing it was possibly an insult to his endurance and capabilities, which wasn’t what he meant to do. He bit his lip and considered another method of small talk, but he supposed that was not the Vulcan way, either.

He fell silent instead, ignoring the pointed looks from a few of his men, and led the fray back toward the Empire.

They stopped just before dusk, the horses exhausted, and Jim not wanting to push them and inevitably delay their arrival. The wedding would take place just one week after they reached the Capital, and Jim didn’t want to be responsible for causing those plans to fall through.

Jim threw himself into helping set up camp, though he knew it always made his men uneasy when he participated in what most would consider menial labor. It never felt right to leave it to serving staff, though. Not when Jim had spent two years in Tarsus, a year with the common people, and a year fighting for his life. Those moments still existed in his worst nightmares—the terror of starving, the fear of impending death—and yet at the time he had been no different than any other man. And that last part, it lingered. Jim had taken the throne because he was meant to—he had been born to do it. But from Tarsus, he had never seen himself above any other man.

So he ignored the men trying to cut in his work and take over, and with his help, they had the tents set up and the fires going before dusk.

“Your Grace?”

Jim looked over and saw the Lady Uhura adjusting her riding robe so she could sit along the crude, fallen tree trunks that had been placed around the cooking fires. Jim smiled at her and sat before her, so no one could accuse her of impropriety. “How is the ride treating you, my Lady?”

She shook her head with a grin. “It is never my favorite thing, but it is something I’ve grown used to since my position in Shi’Khar.”

Jim nodded, and his eyes subconsciously flickered to the left where he knew Spock was standing apart from the rest of the people. Jim took note that he was favoring his left side, and when he took a few steps back, there was the slightest limp to his gait.

“His injury…it still plagues him?”

Nyota’s eyebrows lifted. “He does not mention it, your Grace. At least, in the conversations we have had.”

“And you have had many of them?” Jim prodded.

Nyota gave him a careful look. “I was given the fortunate opportunity to get to know the Prince, perhaps on a more personal level than any other person might—human or Vulcan. He is more than what he seems, stronger than most believe he is.”

“I do not doubt him,” Jim said, finally tearing his gaze away. “Perhaps I am foolish for my concern over his happiness…”

“They do not seek it,” Nyota said. “Most Vulcans, anyway. It is illogical. However they feel it, so I do not find your concern foolish at all. He is to be your husband, and all that tells me is that you are a ruler who deserves his station.”

Jim couldn’t help his flush, couldn’t help the immediate denial that danced on the tip of his tongue. He did not speak it, of course. He was well trained and truly, he was no fool. He would not appear weak, even to a person like Nyota whom he trusted beyond reason. However it was still difficult for him to believe he deserved a title which was given to him at birth, simply because his father had taken an arrow to the chest. He had earned nothing.

Jim said no more, and soon enough, people had gathered around the fire for food. There was little beyond cured meats, breads, and some dried fruit, and when Jim saw the meager rations on Spock’s dish, he bristled at his own inattentiveness. Of course it was difficult to travel heavy, but he should have remembered to consider his husband-to-be’s dietary needs and restrictions.

Jim rose, and most of the men rose with him. With a dismissive wave of his hand, Jim ordered them all back to ease. “We travel together, we can dismiss the formality.” He winked, then strolled off. He knew a guard or two was ordered to follow behind, simply to keep watch, but he ignored that as he approached the supply wagon and began to root around.

There was enough to get them back across the border, and eventually Jim found a small satchel with what remained of the fresh produce. None of it was Vulcan, but he hoped that it would still be pleasing to his betrothed.

“Where is the Prince’s tent?” Jim asked the guard nearby.

The man looked vaguely terrified, but waved at a slightly less ornate tent than his own, not twenty feet away. Jim nodded, satisfied, and then slipped the satchel of food over his shoulder and disappeared into his own temporary quarters. He stripped his riding gear off, going for a pitcher of cool water that had been laid out for him.

He washed the worst bits of the travel away, smoothed on some fragrant oils, and then donned a Vulcan robe which felt lighter and kinder than anything else he’d been riding in. He eased down onto his sleeping pallet and stretched his body for a bit, trying to ease the kinks from his muscles which had seized from the long journey.

He remembered the salve after a moment—the concoction from Bones that always worked wonders. Rummaging through his pack, he found the jar and quickly used it on his lower back. The relief was almost instant, and just as he was twisting the lid back on, he realized he would not be the only one who might benefit from such a salve. Although Spock had not spoken of his injury, that was no true indication of whether or not he was in pain. Jim could, at the very least, share this with him.

He waited until most of the camp had retired, and gave a quick nod to his guard as he stepped out. He could see a light burning between the tent flaps in the Prince’s quarters, and he hesitated just outside. “I…might I come in, your highness?” Jim called. “If I’m not disturbing you.”

“You are not,” came Spock’s voice.

Jim pushed through, and was immediately surrounded by a thick, fragrant smoke. He was startled to find Spock on his knees, hands splayed over his thighs, eyes closed. Jim’s face burned with a hot flush, and he took a step back. “Are you certain I’m not…”

Spock’s eyes opened slowly. “I am certain, Jim.”

Jim felt his stomach twist—not in an entirely unpleasant way—at the thought that Spock had remembered his request to be familiar. Before he could say anything, Spock pushed to his feet in a move far graceful than Jim could ever be. He swiped dust from the side of his robe, then turned, hands clasped behind his back.

“Is there something I might assist you with?”

Jim remembered he was there for a reason, the satchel of food and the jar of salve heavy in his hands. “Yes I…I became aware this evening that we might not have rations that suit your specific needs. I don’t want you to go hungry.”

Spock’s eyes, dark onyx, softened just a little at the corners as he eyed the satchel Jim now held out toward him. “As a Vulcan, I do not require as much sustenance as a human does. But your concern does not go unappreciated.” He took it after a moment, and reached inside, pulling out a pink citrus fruit with a thick rind.

“It’s uh…I don’t think it’s Vulcan, but I thought it might suffice,” Jim said, shuffling his feet, feeling suddenly like a young man on the cusp of manhood with the first stirrings of spring in his belly. He scoffed at himself inwardly, irritated by the way Spock could make him feel.

“I have sampled cuisine from my mother’s homeland, and have indeed tasted something similar. It is pleasing.”

Jim couldn’t help his smile. “I also…I wanted to…” Jim cleared his throat, pushing the jar of salve into his pocket.

Spock stared at him, and then something of resignation flitted across his face. “I understand.” His hands immediately went to the neck of his robes and began to unlace the fastenings. Jim felt a rush of blood to his face, and a slight relief that Spock understood he was only here to help. Perhaps he had smelled the salve on him, and knew what it was for.

Jim took a step back, reaching over to make sure the flaps of the tent were secure, and when he looked back, he saw Spock pushing the robes to his feet, and then he knelt on the bed. “I’m afraid due to Vulcan custom, I am unfamiliar with exactly what might be pleasing to you, but I will gladly take instruction if you were to…”

Jim’s entire body felt so hot it might burst into flame. He was torn between the almost violent appeal he found in Spock’s almost naked body, the way he had positioned himself on hands and knees with his backside up and waiting. And the other part of him was horrified that Spock thought he meant he wanted to…have him.

“Spock,” Jim said, his voice hoarse. “What are you doing?”

“Sybok believed it logical he prepare me for what would be expected of me as your betrothed. He made me aware that cultural customs, one did not wait for marriage or a mating season, but that as your intended, you would expect that I would be available to you. It is logical you would wish to sample the act before we are bonded, to ensure I will remain pleasing to you in further years.”

Jim’s ears started to ring, and he took several breaths to calm himself down. He took a tentative step forward, shoving one hand in his pocket to clutch around the jar, just to feel the bite of glass, to ground him. “Do you want this?”

Spock turned his head back to look at him. “I do not understand.”

“You’re suggesting I’m here for sexual congress. Is that what you want?”

Spock frowned. “What I want is immaterial to the situation at hand. You have been made aware that in my mating time…”

“No,” Jim said stiffly. “I mean…I mean yes. I mean, I know what to expect in a few years when it happens. But your brother isn’t right about that.”

Spock suddenly flushed a deep green and turned, hurriedly grabbing at his robes to cover himself. “I apologize, this is most…”

Jim held up a hand, then carefully eased into a sit, near to Spock, but not touching. “Another might have expected it. Another human. We’re not the most…” He blew out a puff of air as he considered his words. “To humans, mating is an act of pleasure as well as procreation, and we’re driven by our biology, but not in the same way Vulcans are.”

Spock considered him, and Jim was entranced by how he managed to look regal, even half-dressed and covering himself. “Sexual intercourse is not only reserved for our mating time, Jim. However, it was what you agreed upon, so it was only logical to assume my brother was accurate in his assessment of what you were to expect.”

Jim puffed out another lungful of air. “I find you attractive. But I don’t want…I’m not interested in having sex with you unless you want it. Not to please me, but because you find me attractive and wish to…you know. Couple with me. Is that how you feel?”

Spock flushed again, and said nothing.

“I didn’t come here expecting it, and my ego can take the slight blow of your rejection,” he said, and offered a wry grin.

After a long pause, Spock said, “For a Vulcan, it is more than finding a person aesthetically pleasing. There are more factors, including a mental compatibility, one I have not had the chance to explore with you. So I cannot say for certain, whether or not I am attracted to you. However as Vulcans also do not lie, I must tell you that no, I am not…wanting.”

“Okay,” Jim said, and laughed, slightly hysterical as he rubbed his hand down his face. “Okay. Well at any rate, that wasn’t what I came here to do.”

Spock’s eyebrow quirked. “It was my miscalculation.”

“I noticed uh…” Jim’s eyes flickered to Spock’s thigh which was now covered by the robe. In the shock of seeing Spock naked, Jim hadn’t been able to truly examine the injury, but he was certain it was there. “After we dismounted, I noticed that your posture indicated you were in some pain. My physician back at the Capital created something to help, and I thought I might offer you some.” With that, Jim fished the jar from his pocket and held it out on the flat of his palm.

Spock regarded it closely.

“Would it be alright if I applied some?” Jim ventured, feeling brave considering their positions not moments ago.

The flush was still light on Spock’s cheeks, but after a long pause, he nodded. Shifting slightly onto his side, Spock gently pulled the robes away from his thigh until it was exposed. It was pale like the rest of his skin, but mottled with heavy scars which extended from knee to hip. Jim noticed the careful way Spock held his leg, and the gentle spasm of the muscle near the scar tissue.

Afraid if he spoke a word Spock would change his mind, Jim was silent as he uncapped the salve and carved out a small amount. He warmed it between his palms first, and then shifted so he was within touching distance of the Prince.

“I’m sorry my hands are bare. I would have taken gloves if I had thought ahead,” Jim said quietly.

“I do not mind,” was all Spock said.

Jim let out a slightly trembling breath, then carefully took Spock by the knee, using his other hand to carefully massage the salve into the old wound. He knew what it would feel like, the cooling, and then the gentle heat sinking in. He wasn’t sure it would have exactly the same effect on a Vulcan, but as he rubbed it in, he could feel Spock begin to relax in short increments.

When his palms were dry, and Spock’s leg had been covered, Jim carefully sat back and wiped his hands on his own robe. “Does it feel alright?”

Spock sat up, covering himself once again, and Jim could see him flex his leg gently under the cloth. “Fascinating. It is some method of pain relief.”

“I don’t know how he does it, but Bones is a genius. I’m looking forward to introducing the two of you. You’ll get along like a house on fire.”

Spock quirked an eyebrow. “A human idiom.”

“Bones doesn’t like most people, and I’m not sure how he’ll feel about you. But it’ll be interesting to say the least.” Jim pushed himself up, then put the jar back in his pocket. “I have plenty, so if you’d like, use it tomorrow. We have a long ride ahead, and I don’t want you to be in pain when it isn’t necessary.”

Spock nodded, but made no move to stand, though that was entirely expected considering all things. “I…thank you, Jim.”

Jim couldn’t help his smile. “Any time. See you in the morning?”

“Of course.”

Jim took it as a small triumph that Spock didn’t point out the illogic in what Jim had said, considering they were riding out together. Jim held up his ta’al, but before he could make his way out, Spock rose and shrugged on his robes. They hung mostly open, held at the middle by one of Spock’s hands, and the other had risen, two fingers up.

“If you would permit me?” Spock asked.

Jim swallowed, then mirrored the gesture, and felt his breath catch, hot and thick in his throat as Spock’s fingers dragged along his own. The intimacy was almost overwhelming, and Jim found himself wondering more and more about what other Vulcan secrets Spock was keeping.

It was enough for now though, to share this. “Sleep well, Spock,” he said, very softly as he reached for the tent flap.

“You as well. Jim.”

Jim smiled to himself as he made his way through the dark, back to his own temporary quarters.

Chapter Text

They were exactly two day’s ride from the capital, and Jim could feel the anticipation building in him. Two day’s ride, then just a handful of sleeps before he would be wed. And while the prospect of a Vulcan husband had been at the very least, unappealing, Jim found himself growing closer and closer to the prince as the journey wore on.

After crossing the Federation border, the climate changed to something far more familiar than Vulcan’s oppressive heat, and Jim noticed that by the second day away from his homeland, Spock wore thicker layers. He also tolerated Jim’s touch more—though only in private, but he seemed to welcome it, and Jim felt himself almost craving those intimate, quiet moments between them.

“Jim?” Spock said, staring at the bowl of chopped fruit Jim had brought into his tent, “might I make an inquiry regarding a certain…behavior of yours?”

Jim looked up from the map he was studying, his cheeks going hot at the potential faux pas. “Did I do something?”

“It is only an observation,” Spock said. He used the spoon Jim had given him, and stirred the fruit in the bowl.

Jim rolled the map up, then tucked it back into his satchel and turned to give Spock his full attention. “You can ask me anything you want.”

The corner of Spock’s mouth twitched up a fraction. “I have noticed that you seem to have a particular compulsion with those you are close to. While I am flattered I am becoming one of that number, I find myself curious you feel the need to show your affection and care through food.”

Jim blinked at him. “Though food?”

Spock nodded once. “I have made the observation that on multiple occasions, when you are concerned about the wellbeing of a person, you provide them with sustenance. When it became clear to you that the food on the journey was mostly comprised of animal meat, you were most distressed and you made sure to deliver me a meal from the stores in spite of knowing that my biology provides me the opportunity to go much longer without food than a human. It would be logical, in that situation, to ensure those who need it more than I, are provided with first, and yet you arrive at my tent nightly with provisions.”

Jim wanted to feign ignorance, to say it was just something cultural that Spock didn’t understand. Say that it didn’t mean anything at all, but he had a feeling the Vulcan Prince would see right through him. And, he thought, if he was to be married to the Vulcan, perhaps it was best that he share the truth of his past before he heard it from someone else.

He knew that by now, his face was splotchy pink, and he was twisting his hands into the fabric of his tunic with his distress. He watched Spock take in all of these observations, and was profoundly grateful the Prince said nothing about them aloud.

“You know about Tarsus, right?” Jim started.

Spock blinked, almost like he was startled, then nodded. “Yes. The trade routes had been cut off by a vicious winter, and in the face of starvation, the Governor ordered a genocide.”

Jim let out a shaking breath. “Yeah. He was taken into custody, tried and executed for treason. But uh…I was there. I was in Tarsus when it happened. My uncle was trying to teach me something,” Jim said, trying and failing to hide the bitterness in his voice. “A lesson in humility, he said. I was sent to the working colony to learn what it meant to be a commoner, which he insisted was the only way I would truly be able to understand my people. In hindsight I believe he had a good idea, but the application of it…”

Spock nodded, but said nothing.

Jim’s nerves got the better of him, and he rose, pacing in front of the Prince who sat still and resolute. “No one knew who I was. Or if they did, they didn’t say anything. By the end of things, it didn’t really matter, you know? We were all teenagers, all starving, all destined to return to the earth. I managed to save a lot of them, but…but not everyone. Not enough. We were starving, and freezing, and I don’t think I would have lasted another week had the storms not passed when they did.” Jim licked his lips, pausing in his step, and he rubbed the back of his neck. “Bones knows I do it—the food thing. The idea of someone going hungry…” He trailed off with a shudder. “By your logic, and even by mine, I know that going a day or two for you without eating isn’t a problem. But I…the thought of it…”

Spock rose, approaching Jim, and he curled a hand around his wrist. Jim didn’t totally understand the significance behind the touch, but he did understand there was one. “I will not question you again.”

Jim shook his head. “No, it’s fine. I…I don’t mind you wondering. I know I’m kind of…I’m probably not what you imagined the Emperor to be like.”

Spock raised a brow and took a step back, but there was still a faint smile on his lips. “No, Jim. You are most certainly not what I imagined the Emperor of the Federation to be like. But in that, I find I am the furthest thing from disappointed.”

_ _ _

Their arrival in the Capital was exactly as Jim had expected—exactly as he’d become used to receiving whenever he traveled. He rode next to Spock with his procession behind him, waving at the crowds welcoming him on the path toward the palace steps. But he was profoundly aware of Spock this time, and profoundly aware of the looks he was receiving from the people.

His stomach twisted in worry, and very rarely did Jim ignore those types of feelings in his gut. There was an almost hostility to the stranger in the eyes of the quiet ones—the people watching from afar, the people staring out their windows. Jim found himself guiding his horse closer to Spock’s, keeping one hand on the reigns, the other briefly touching the hilt on his sword just for reassurance that it was there.

“Your Grace?” Spock asked, just loud enough for Jim to hear.

“It’s nothing,” Jim said, though he didn’t believe his own words. He swore he saw swift movement behind the people gathered to see his arrival. “Spock I just…”

His voice was silenced by the whistle of an arrow, and the sharp cry from his betrothed as Spock slumped down. Jim felt something warm splash him, and looked down in horror to see thick, green liquid smeared across his hand. His guards were already disbursing the crowd, sending their swiftest to find the one who fired the arrow.

Jim immediately snapped to attention. He reached over, grabbing Spock from his horse, and managed to maneuver the Prince onto his own. Spock was breathing, and the arrow looked lodged in his arm—no where dangerous, he was certain. He urged his horse into a run, a few guards behind him, and before long, they made it to the Palace steps.

Bones and the Lady Chapel were already waiting for him, which meant a runner had them alerted. Hands took Spock from Jim, and something visceral in his belly made him want to reach for the Prince, to draw him back into the safety of his embrace. But he knew his healers would take care of him, so he let him go.

Jim was ushered off into his meeting chamber where Pike was already waiting, arms crossed. Jim felt the sticky, green fluid drying on his skin, and he was overcome with an urge to bathe, to slough off the journey from his body.

Dragging a hand down his face, Jim waited until the rest of his advisors, and a few of his guards arrived.

“Your Grace,” Sulu said, “we have several men looking for the archer now. Word has spread that an attempt has been made on your life…”

“That arrow was not for me,” Jim said harshly. “The marksman was far too good a shot. If he had wanted me, he would have struck me.”

Pike’s lips thinned. “We know, Highness. But you marrying into another land has caused…tension, and the people will rally behind you if they know an attempt was made on your life. They may not have the same fervor if they believe the arrow was not intended for you.”

Jim’s jaw clenched as Sulu spoke again. “Sir, the people are already talking of the brave Vulcan Prince who put himself between you and death.”

Dragging a hand down his face, Jim blew out a puff of air and tried to reconcile the situation in his own head. He wanted his people endeared to Spock the way he had become, but he understood that tensions with Vulcan ran deep, and they ran generations long. He hadn’t expected an absolutely warm welcome, but he hadn’t expected that any of his people would find the match so distasteful, they would commit such an act of treason.

He understood exactly why his advisors had framed the attack the way they had, but he didn’t like it. He had not been the target, and he could not be certain Spock would have attempted to save his life at all.

“Where is he?”

“He is being treated, and then he will be sent to the baths,” Scotty said.

Jim nodded. “Tell them to send Spock to my own private baths. I’m going to wash the long road off my skin, and when I’m certain my betrothed is nowhere near death, we will meet to discuss the wedding.”

Pike looked like he wanted to argue, but wisely kept his mouth shut as Jim stormed off. It felt good, then, to not be followed. To know he was in the quiet confines of the palace he knew and trusted. In Vulcan, he had not been given such luxuries, and being able to have a moment to himself, to sink into the quiet, was bliss.

By the time he reached the baths, the small pool was filled with fragrant, steaming water. Jim dismissed the servants, then quickly dropped his riding gear, tunic, and breeches to the floor. He used a sea sponge and some pearly white soap to scrub off before sinking into the hot water, and he let his head tip back on a plush towel, his eyes closing, breathing in the gentle steam.

Jim was just starting to worry that Spock’s condition was worse than Pike let on when the door opened, then closed again with a soft snick of the latch. Jim shifted in the water, turning with his arms on the floor to see Spock there in a robe, his feet and legs bare.

“You requested my presence, your Grace?”

“We are alone,” Jim reminded him. He pushed up, then pat the side of the tub. “Will you join me?”

Spock eyed the water wearily. “I…have no fondness for submerging myself in water.”

“Yes, well, it feels good after a journey like that, and even better after taking an arrow to the shoulder. Just don’t get your wound wet. There’s a bench, just here,” Jim said, and indicated the first step into the pool.

Spock hesitated, then dropped the robe. Jim averted his eyes out of propriety, and waited until he heard Spock enter the water. The Prince let out a hiss through clenched teeth, but eventually was seated, his stomach settled just below the bubbles.

Jim edged a little closer, and looked over at Spock’s thickly bandaged arm. “Was it bad?”

“It was a superficial wound,” Spock said, shrugging his uninjured shoulder. “Your doctor was quite efficient at managing both blood flow and pain.”

Jim nodded, then glanced down at his hand which was now clean. “You have green blood.”

After a pause, Spock nodded. “I did not inherit many physical traits from my human mother. I understand if the sight of it was disturbing to you, Jim.”

Jim couldn’t help a surprised laugh. “Spock, the only thing disturbing was seeing my intended slumped over with an arrow in the shoulder. I…” He trailed off, then moved closer. His hand raised, a desire to touch, to feel him safe and alive. Now that the hysteria of the moment was passed, now that Spock was patched up and sitting in the bath alongside Jim, the reality of the situation hit him. “That was not the welcome I wished my people to give you.”

Spock looked at Jim carefully, regarding his expression, his outstretched hand. Instead of moving into the touch, however, Spock raised his own palm, fingers parting in the ta’al, and he pressed it to Jim’s. On instinct, Spock mirrored the gesture, and felt a warmth and underlying affection creeping into his skin.

“I am okay,” Spock said, very softly.

Jim breathed out a long sigh, pressing his hand even tighter to Spock’s. “All the same, I wished…to give you something you could treasure. With what you have suffered in whispers and rumors in your own land, I wanted you to feel at home here.”

“Jim,” Spock said, then moved his hand to take Jim’s wrist in a gentle hold, “I am pleased by your regard for me, but I pride logic above all feeling. The xenophobia between our people runs deep, and I was not expecting to be trusted.”

“You were shot,” Jim said, his voice rising, echoing in the marble chamber. He flinched, then quieted. “You were shot, Spock. It is my duty to protect you, and not ten minutes after entering my city, you were wounded.”

“A wound I shall heal from quickly,” Spock told him. He released Jim’s wrist gently. “However, due to the nature of the wound, it is imperative that I meditate. With your permission, I will take my leave.”

“You don’t need permission,” Jim said, eyes wide at the implication.

Spock’s jaw tightened just a moment, and then he leaned forward. “Yes, I do. I am…willing to compromise on familiarity when we are in private, but it will not benefit us, or the people’s regard for you, if we forget such things, your Grace. We are not equals. I will marry you, and it will seal the treaty between our people, but I will remain consort. Never Emperor. It is a fate and a title I understood and accepted when I abdicated my crown. We must prevent war, yes, but we must also prevent a civil unrest. It will not do for your people to see you disregard rank. Especially not with a Vulcan. So with your permission, your Grace, I would take my leave.”

Jim’s throat felt raw, his heart twisted and angry, but he was no fool. He understood Spock’s words perfectly. A few nights in a tent, and blossoming moments between them did not erase who they truly were. “Permission granted,” Jim finally said. He then called for a bath servant to assist Spock into his robes, and take him to his quarters.

When he was gone, Jim put his face into his hands, and sat there until the bath grew cold.