Jim reined his horse to a halt before the gates of Vulcan. There was a large stone wall stretching around the entire kingdom that most Vulcans rarely ventured outside, preferring to keep to themselves. Only half a decade ago the wall would have been heavily guarded, keeping outsiders away, but since then the King of Vulcan and Jim's mother, Queen of Terra, had agreed that it would be mutually beneficial for the two kingdoms to be on friendly terms and had signed a trade agreement. However, while the two countries now traded various raw materials and any citizen of Terra or Vulcan could cross the border freely, the two peoples still remained somewhat wary of each other, and for the most part showed no interest in interaction apart from the trade. Queen Winona and King Sarek had together come to the conclusion that a royal wedding – uniting the Crown Princess of Vulcan and the Crown Prince of Terra in matrimony – might better the relations between Terrans and Vulcans.
This was the reason Jim was presently on his way into Vulcan; he was to stay at the Vulcan royal residence and get acquainted with the princess and, at the end of his stay, propose. At least, those were the orders his mother had given him. He had no real intention of proposing; he was merely pretending to follow his mother's orders while waiting for the moment when a plan to avoid marrying the Vulcan princess would reveal itself to him. He would find a way; he was determined that he would not marry anyone simply because it was expected of him.
Jim rode through the gate, entering Vulcan for the first time, and headed for the town he could see about a quarter mile away. As he took in his new surroundings, he marvelled at the differences between this country and his own; despite only being separated from Terra by a wall, the nature here was quite different. It was drier, with less vegetation and more sand; almost desert-like. The animals the Vulcans rode were different from horses, but this he knew already; he had seen them pull Vulcan merchants' carriages before. The Vulcans themselves were exotic-looking, and Jim had found them intriguing ever since he had first seen one five years ago, at the age of fourteen. They were similar to his own people, yet not; their ears were drawn up into a point, their eyebrows were slanted, and their skin held a greenish cast. He had heard that they bled green, but didn't know if it was true.
He reined his horse to a stop, addressing a passing Vulcan and asking him the way to the royal residence. The Vulcan regarded him with impassivity before nodding towards another, younger man on a mount nearby. "There rides one of the King's servants. Perhaps he is headed for the palace and can show you the way."
Jim looked towards the man he had indicated, and saw that he was wearing a black tunic with what Jim recognised as the emblem of the Vulcan royal court on the upper sleeve. He thanked the Vulcan and rode over to the servant.
"Excuse me. You are one of the King's servants?"
"I am," the young Vulcan said, then his eyes flicked down and widened slightly, and he dismounted the animal he was riding on and kneeled down on one knee. "How may I serve you, Your Royal Highness?"
Jim noticed that the royal clan tattoo on his wrist was showing. The Vulcan was observant.
"Are you on your way to the royal palace? I don't know the directions and would be much obliged if you could show me the way."
"I have finished my errands and would gladly accompany you, Sir," the servant said, getting up from the ground. "The Majesty and Her Royal Highness are expecting you." He swung gracefully into the saddle again and they began riding side by side.
Jim regarded the Vulcan while they rode. He seemed to be about the same age as himself, perhaps a little older – maybe twenty-one, twenty-two. He was handsome, his features elegant apart from a nose that seemed slightly too big, yet somehow did not detract from his comeliness.
"What is your name?" asked Jim.
When the Vulcan turned to look at him, Jim's gaze fell to his mouth. The upper lip was shaped like the bow Jim practiced archery with, and there was a small, enticing gap separating the lips at the centre. Jim could easily see himself covering that gap with his own lips, should the opportunity at any point present itself.
"My name is Spock."
"Only Spock? No last name?"
Spock lowered his eyes and looked away. "Just Spock, Sir."
They rode for a couple of hours, mostly in silence, allowing Jim the opportunity to study the Vulcan's appearance further. He knew he was staring unabashedly and that Spock noticed, but he could not bring himself to care. It caused Spock to look down and fidget with the reins as he flushed a becoming shade of green, which only made him look all the more appealing.
When they arrived at the palace Spock took care of their mounts, walking them to the stable while Jim was shown in by a butler. Another servant went to alert the King of his presence and returned a short while later. "The Majesty and Her Royal Highness are ready to receive you, Sir."
The butler showed Jim into the main hall. "His Royal Highness the Prince James Tiberius of Terra," he announced, and Jim walked into the room across checkered tiles toward King Sarek and the princess.
"Your Majesty," he said and bowed at the waist. "Princess T'Pring." He bowed again, and she curtsied in return, looking about as pleased to see him as he felt to see her. Her lips were pressed together firmly in a thin, straight line, and her eyes were cold. She was not unattractive; there was a sort of frosty beauty to her, but Jim did not find her appealing. Not like Spock, whose eyes were a warm brown and much more expressive than hers.
"You honour us with your presence, Prince James," the King said. "I hope you will find your stay satisfactory and that you and my daughter may become well acquainted and enjoy each other's company."
"I am certain I shall find the stay more than satisfactory, Sire. And it is my hope that the Princess will not object to my company," Jim lied, giving them what he knew to be one of his most charming smiles.
"She will not." Jim noticed the subtle, yet stern look the King gave his daughter before he turned to Jim again and changed the subject. "My servant informed me that you arrived here alone. Is this correct?"
"It is. I prefer travelling without company," Jim replied. It was only half the truth; Jim's mother had told him to take the carriage and bring his valet, Christopher, but instead he had ridden off alone in the middle of the night and left a note behind for his mother. He did not want Christopher to interfere with his plans, whatever they may turn out to be.
"Then one of my servants shall serve as your valet while you are here. Perhaps Spock, since you have already met him? He is a fine servant."
Jim held back a smile. Spock was very fine indeed, and it would suit Jim perfectly to have him as his personal valet for the endurance of his stay. "Thank you, Sire, that would be excellent."
"Very well. He will be informed of his new duties." Sarek glanced at his pocket watch. "Dinner will be served in one and a half hours. Meanwhile, T'Pring can show you the gardens."
"That sounds lovely," Jim said, trying to sound enthusiastic.
The three of them went out to the entrance hall, where Spock was in the middle of the task of carrying Jim's belongings to his chamber.
"Spock," said Sarek, interrupting Spock's actions. "You shall act as James's personal servant while he is here. I will relegate your customary duties to someone else."
Spock bowed his head in acquiescence and looked up at Jim. "Does His Royal Highness wish for me to perform some duty for him at this moment?"
"No thank you," said Jim, "we're just go—"
"Yes," T'Pring interrupted, "he does. We are going for a walk in the gardens, and you will follow approximately 100 feet behind us."
Her father raised an eyebrow, but did not comment, and Spock looked between the three of them as if trying to figure out whether the order was final. Jim didn't know what to make of T'Pring's order, but he did not see any need to argue with her. "Very well – you will follow behind us as we walk in the gardens," he said to Spock.
"Leave his belongings," said Sarek, "someone else will bring them up."
"Yes, Sire." Spock put the bags down and went outside with the three of them.
Sarek gave Jim a brief history and description of the garden before he left them and went inside, and then... Jim was expected to get to know T'Pring. He offered her his elbow, and she took it and began walking at a brisk pace, so that Jim had to increase his speed in order to keep up with her. When they were out of sight from the palace, hidden by a row of bushes, she twirled and faced him, releasing his elbow.
"I do not intend to marry you," she said, the flare of her nostrils the only sign of emotion on her face.
Jim laughed delightedly, pleased at her chilly declaration. "Then you shall be happy to know that I do not intend to marry you either."
T'Pring nodded once, mouth still set in a grim line. "Good. However, you ought to know that my father is most adamant regarding this matter."
"As is my mother. That does not mean I intend to do as she says."
T'Pring nodded once more, seemingly pleased with this, then took a step in Spock's direction, turning her back completely to Jim. She called for Spock, and he approached them.
"Spock, show James the gardens. Make certain you stay where my father will not be able to see you, and meet me at the east entrance of the maze ten minutes before dinner," she ordered, ignoring Jim's presence completely.
Without another word, T'Pring turned and left.
"She seems... pleasant," Jim said, wondering if Spock would pick up on his sarcasm. Vulcans seldom used sarcasm, he had learned, and Jim knew first-hand that some of them had problems grasping the concept. He had, upon occasion, amused himself with it, confounding the Vulcans who occasionally came to his mother's castle.
"The Princess..." Spock paused, weighing his words, "...is usually more hospitable."
"I'm sure," Jim said. "Towards anyone who is not here to propose to her."
Spock's mouth opened and closed, as if he did not know what to say to in order to explain or defend T'Pring's behaviour. Jim took pity on him.
"I apologise, I did not mean to make you uncomfortable. If it makes you feel better, I am not going to propose, and I would rather spend time with you than with her."
Spock's face turned that comely shade of green again. "I am but a mere servant, Sir."
"I'm aware of what you are. Let's go to the hedge maze; I wish to explore it."
Spock led Jim to the maze. It seemed large from the outside, and Jim imagined it was possible to get lost inside it.
"You will be able to find the way out, right?"
"Yes. I shall make certain we will exit the maze on time."
"Good." Jim stepped inside it, and Spock followed right behind him.
Jim had always had a liking for mazes, whether they were simply drawn on paper or in the sand or whether they were made out of stone or hedge, and he was usually quite skilled at finding the way out. However, he had never been in one quite so tall as this one; he would not be able to see over the hedge even if he jumped, and although he knew Spock would be able to show him the way out, it created the illusion that he would truly be trapped if he could not find the exit. Trapped with Spock. It was not an altogether unpleasant prospect.
After a while they came to an empty square, the sun reaching the grass on the ground, and Jim guessed that they had reached the middle of the maze. He lay down on the grass, stretching out and letting the sun warm his skin.
"Come, lie beside me."
Spock hesitated, but did as Jim requested.
Jim turned on his side and regarded the servant. He had never been able to study a Vulcan so closely before, and he visually traced the edge of Spock's ear as it drew up into an elegant point. Jim could not help himself; he reached out and traced it physically as well, drawing a finger along the surprisingly soft skin.
Spock closed his eyes and shivered. "Sir, I am... not that kind of servant."
"I know," Jim said. "I just like your ears."
Spock turned and looked at him, confusion clear on his face. He was so expressive, compared to other Vulcans Jim had met.
"They're exotic," Jim explained. "Are you not curious about mine?"
Jim saw Spock look briefly at one of his ears.
"They serve the same function as my own."
"They do; however, they look different. Are you sincerely not the least bit intrigued by the difference?"
Spock's eyes flicked towards Jim ear again, lingering longer this time while he was searching for words. Jim hoped that his hesitation was due to an unnecessary sense of propriety rather than a lack of curiosity.
"You can touch them if you wish."
Spock looked away. "Sir, it would be inappropriate for a servant to—" He left his sentence unfinished, as if not quite certain how to continue.
"Nonsense," said Jim, putting his hand on Spock's and squeezing it gently before bringing it to his ear, and Spock shivered again.
Jim released Spock's hand and watched his face as he tentatively ran a finger along Jim's rounded ear once and then removed his hand. Jim wished the touch would have lingered.
"You do not know how to react to my behaviour, do you?"
Spock hesitated. "You do not behave like any royal I have ever met," he said, then immediately looked as if he regretted it. "Forgive me, Sir, I did not mean—"
"There is nothing to forgive. It's true, I do not act like most royals. According to my mother I behave like a commoner, and it suits me perfectly fine. And for future reference, I want you to speak your mind freely when you're with me."
Spock's eyes seemed to search Jim's for a moment before he eventually gave a small nod. "If that is what Your Royal Highness wishes, then I shall attempt to do so."
"Good!" Jim was immensely pleased. "Now, I think I shall nap on the grass a short while; I'm tired after today's ride. Will you wake me when we need to leave the maze?"
"Very well," Spock responded.
Jim woke from his sleep without any help a while later, and opened his eyes to see Spock lying on his side next to him, regarding him, then quickly looking away.
Jim smiled and touched Spock's arm. "I do not mind you watching me."
Spock kept his eyes averted. "I was just about to wake you. Shall we go?"
They got up from the ground and went to the east entrance of the maze, but T'Pring was not there yet. It did not take long before Jim saw her: she was being escorted to a tree at the edge of the garden by a young, male Vulcan, and they exchanged a few words before he briefly touched her hand and left. Spock said nothing, and neither did Jim as she walked towards them. Now he knew why she was so set against marrying him.
T'Pring took Jim's arm again and they went inside for dinner, Spock following them to the dining room but not entering with them.
"Did you enjoy your walk in the garden?" Sarek asked while the maid served them food.
Jim looked at T'Pring to see if she would answer the question, or if she would leave it to him. She met his gaze, but remained silent.
"Yes, it was lovely," Jim said. "The garden is wonderful and your daughter is quite charming."
The King lifted an eyebrow again and cast a glance at his daughter. "I am glad to hear it. Did you have the chance to become somewhat acquainted?"
"Somewhat, yes," said Jim, belatedly realising that the King would likely wish to hear of some of the things they had discussed. He kept talking to keep the King's question at bay. "But mostly, I think your daughter merely amused herself with letting me lead us aimlessly through the maze, not knowing where I was going. She refused to lead the way until we had just enough time to get out of there and come back here in time for dinner." He hoped this would seem plausible; he had exchanged only a few sentences with T'Pring and hence knew very little about her personality, but could still somehow imagine her as the type of person to do what he had just described.
It seemed it had been a good guess; Sarek's eyes crinkled with humour as he looked at his daughter again, and even T'Pring's expression softened, one of the corners of her mouth turning upwards. The expression suited her.
After dinner, Spock showed Jim to his chamber. As he laid eyes on the bed, he became suddenly aware of how weary he was feeling after the long ride – wearier than he had felt outside, in the maze. He lay down on the bed, relaxing his sore muscles.
"Is there anything you need, Sir?" Spock asked. "A bath, perhaps?"
Jim chuckled. "I take it I smell?"
"Not at all, Sir," Spock said hastily. "I simply thought you might find it soothing after the long—"
"Relax." Jim smiled at the Vulcan. "I was merely joking. A bath sounds wonderful."
Spock seemed perplexed still at Jim's unusual behaviour, but he bowed his head in acknowledgement. "Very well, I shall prepare you a bath. There is a robe for you in the wardrobe."
Spock left the room, and Jim got up and changed into the robe before lying down on the bed again, waiting while Spock heated water and filled the bath.
Spock came and fetched him when he was done, and held the door to the bathroom open for him before following him inside. "You may wish to check the temperature of the water. I noticed, earlier, that your... body temperature differs from ours." And there it was again, that lovely, green blush.
Jim dipped his hand into the warm water, swirling it around. "It's perfect. Thank you." He undid the belt of his robe, and Spock stepped behind him and pulled the garment off his shoulders. Jim turned to Spock and found that he, to Jim's disappointment (but not surprise), was keeping his eyes respectfully averted while he folded the robe.
Jim stepped into the bath and sighed in contentment as he lay back, the warm water soothing his muscles. "This is wonderful. I could stay in here until nightfall, I am sure."
"Do you wish for me to leave the room, Sir? I can stand outside the door and come back in again when you call me."
"No, no, you can stay. Sit." Jim gestured to the stool next to the bath, and Spock sat, his gaze focussed on a point in the room that was decidedly not him. Jim wondered if Spock wanted to look.
"So, Spock, do you know who he was?"
"He?" Spock responded, still not looking at him.
Jim touched Spock's arm, making him draw a soft breath and direct his gaze at him. "Spock, you do not have to look at my body if you don't want to, but I would appreciate it if you could look me in the eyes while we are talking. I find it unsettling to speak to someone who will not look at me."
"Very well," Spock acquiesced, and held Jim's gaze.
"I was talking about the fellow T'Pring was with."
"I should not..."
"I have already guessed that they have an affair. Don't worry, I will not mention anything about it to the King. All I am wondering is if you know anything about him."
Spock hesitated, but gave in. "His name is Stonn. He is the son of the leader of one of the four Houses connected to the Royal House. These Houses are the Vulcan equivalent to Terran peerage. He is also her first cousin twice removed."
Jim huffed. "So inbreeding is popular among royalty in the Vulcan kingdom, as well?"
"It would not technically be inbreeding. T'Pring is not the King's biological daughter; she was the daughter of one of Sarek's cousins, not related to Stonn, who died in a fire along with his wife when T'Pring was an infant. Only T'Pring was rescued from the house."
"Then she –"
"Is adopted, yes." Spock opened his mouth to continue talking, but then he stopped himself abruptly and looked ashamed. "I interrupted you. Forgive me, Sir; somehow I do not manage to behave properly around you." He looked down into his lap. "If you should wish to do so, you can request to have another servant act as your valet instead of me."
"I don't wish to have another servant as my valet," Jim said as he raised a hand to Spock's face, tipping his chin up. "And I certainly do not expect you to behave properly around me." He let the touch linger a few moments longer, holding Spock's gaze despite knowing it was making him uncomfortable. "In fact, I would prefer it if you did not," he said with a smile as he let go of Spock's chin, letting his hand land in the crook of his own thigh. He caught Spock's eyes following the movement before quickly looking away again, and wondered whether Spock wanted to look.
When Jim was done with his bath, he stretched and yawned as he entered his chamber, and turned around to face Spock. "I think I shall retire now."
"Very well. Is there anything you require of me first, Sir?"
A kiss, he did not say. He wanted to prod at the Vulcan's limits, but it was not his intention to scare him away. "No, thank you, I don't require anything more this evening. Good night, Spock."
The Vulcan bowed his head. "Good night, Sir. I hope you will sleep well here."
It wasn't long before Jim fell asleep, dreaming of caressing green-tinted skin. He slept very well indeed that night.
"Who is he?" Jim asked T'Pring as they sat together in a small room with a view of the gardens, drinking tea. Jim would rather be spending his time together with Spock, but it was expected that he and T'Pring should further acquaint themselves with each other.
"Of whom are you speaking?"
"Your lover." Jim wanted to hear if T'Pring would be willing to tell him about it in her own words, but did not mention that Spock had already told him about Stonn; he didn't want to cause Spock any trouble.
T'Pring set her cup slowly down and looked at it for a few moments before she met Jim's gaze evenly. "He is Stonn – my fiancé. We are getting married, and I will not let anything come in the way of that."
Jim nodded slowly. "Do you have any plans to elope?"
She narrowed her eyes minutely at Jim, seeming to try to decide whether or not she could trust him, then answered. "Yes. Next week. We would have done it sooner, but rumours have spread across the entire kingdom that I am to marry you, and there is only one priest whom we can trust not to refuse us and inform my father of our plans. He is a childhood friend of Stonn's. He has been staying in Andoria for the last three months, but will be back in eight days if everything goes according to plan."
Jim smiled. "I wish you good luck with that. I have always believed one should marry the person one loves, not the person one's parents find acceptable."
The edges of T'Pring's mouth seemed to curl up ever so slightly at that, and Jim imagined the little "hum" sound she made was one of approval.
"And you, do you have someone?"
"Not precisely. I have met someone very recently, however, who has caught my attention. I don't know if I have a chance, but I suppose I will find out." Jim smiled to himself, wondering if she would be curious enough to ask.
She was. "What is she like?"
"He is tall, dark, handsome... has a pair of exquisitely pointed ears and the most charming green blush I have ever seen."
T'Pring's mouth fell slightly open. "Spock."
Jim nodded. "Spock."
T'Pring, to her credit, got over her surprise quickly. She merely paused for a moment, then, "Are you aware that Spock and I are friends? We used to be very close as children."
"As children? Is his mother also a servant here?"
T'Pring shook her head. "He was orphaned as an infant. I have only heard murmurs among the staff about how he came to be here; they say his mother, deathly ill, came to the palace and asked one of the servants to take care of him, and then she left and disappeared. I have also heard someone say his mother was a Terran, but I find this to be unlikely as Terrans were rarely admitted into our kingdom at that time. These are merely rumours that I have heard told by those of the staff who did not yet work for my father when Spock came here. The only thing I know for certain is that the staff who did work here at the time wanted to care for him, and that Father allowed them to do so."
"And you two were allowed to play together?"
"Yes. For several years, we were inseparable. When I was seven years of age, I thought I was in love with him. I realised later, of course, that it had been nothing more than a childish infatuation, and also... that Spock's interest did not lie in women." One of her eyebrows arched up and her eyes met Jim's. He imagined this was the Vulcan version of a meaningful look.
Jim was about to thank her for telling him when she rang the little bell that stood on the table, and Spock entered the room.
T'Pring stood and touched her temple gingerly. "Spock, I feel somewhat unwell and need to lie down. I do not believe Prince James has been shown properly around the palace; perhaps you could show him around now, if he wants to see it?" She turned to Jim, who gave a brief nod in agreement. He was certain she was lying about feeling unwell so that he could spend time with Spock, and he was thankful for it.
"Certainly, Ma'am," Spock replied. "Will you be all right?" Jim could see the thinly veiled concern in Spock's eyes, and while he would never have believed yesterday that these two were friends, he could see it now as T'Pring placed a gentle hand on Spock's arm.
"It is only a headache; I simply need some rest. I shall retire to my chamber."
"Very well, Ma'am." Spock bowed his head and waited until she had left the room, then looked at Jim. "Do you want me to show you around now, Sir?"
The palace was even more grand and impressive than the one where Jim had grown up, but even so Jim still found himself tiring quickly of the tour.
"Spock, I have changed my mind. Don't show me the entire palace; just show my your favourite room and tell me why you prefer it over all the others."
Jim expected Spock to once again be confused by his behaviour, but instead Spock turned to look at him and seemed almost pleased, his eyes lighting up.
"Very well. If you will come with me, Sir."
Jim followed Spock up a flight of stairs into a large hall, and then Spock went up to a set of heavy, wooden doors with intricately carved designs and pulled at the handles. The doors opened, and upon seeing what type of room it was, Jim inhaled deeply, relishing the smell of old books.
"I think I can understand why this would be your favourite room," Jim said as they went into the library, "but tell me anyway."
Spock drew a hand reverently along a row of books. "I have always been fond of books, ever since I was a child," hesaid. "The King enjoys reading, and made certain I was taught to read alongside T'Pring when she was tutored as a child. He allows the palace staff to read anything we want from the library, and I read every night, before I go to bed. I cannot imagine a life without books."
Spock's gaze seemed to be filled with wonder as it travelled along the rows of books, and Jim felt his heart skip a beat. He could easily fall in love with someone who loved books as much as Spock clearly did.
"What's your favourite?"
Spock went over to a different shelf and picked out a book. He held it out for Jim. "This one. I used to read it as a child and have read it many times since."
Jim took it and turned it over in his hands. He did not recognise the title nor the author, but—
"The author's name is Terran."
Spock nodded. "Indeed. The book is filled with such beautiful imagery and strong..." he paused and looked away, "emotions the likes of which I have never seen described in any Vulcan book. I find it captivating."
Jim thought back to T'Pring's mention of the rumour about Spock having a Terran mother and figured that if T'Pring had heard it, Spock had as well. "T'Pring told me there is a rumour circulating among the servants that you are half Terran. Do you think it is true?"
Spock looked down. "T'Pring thinks it is not."
"And what do you think?" Jim asked, prompting Spock to meet his eyes again.
"My blood is a lighter green than that of other Vulcans. And my heart... it is situated somewhat higher than in a normal Vulcan. Ordinarily it should be here," he held a hand up to his side and then moved it a bit further up, "but it is here."
"Your heart is in your side?" Jim stepped closer, fascinated. "May I feel?" He raised a hand toward Spock's side, but paused when Spock froze. Spock didn't move, seemingly expecting Jim to do it whether he had permission or not, but Jim kept his hand still, searching Spock's face. Finally Spock relaxed and nodded.
Jim placed his hand against Spock's side. "Here?" Spock's own hand came to cover his, then moved it into the right position. Jim marvelled at the feeling of a rapid heartbeat beneath his fingers. "Does it always beat so quickly?"
Spock hesitated a moment before he answered. "No. Not always."
Jim looked up and found that their faces were only inches apart because of their proximity to each other. The moment their gazes met Spock looked away, flushing a light green again. The signals Spock was giving off seemed promising, but he knew the Vulcan was not ready yet for any overt advances and stepped away, giving him some space. He looked around to find something to talk about, and laid his eyes on a checkered board on a table near one of the walls, with two chairs on opposite sides of the table. "What's that?" he asked, pointing at it. "It looks like a Terran chess board."
"It is, " Spock said. "The King acquired it many years ago. It has been here since before I was born."
It was remarkable that King Sarek had acquired both a Terran book and a chess board long before the two kingdoms had even been on friendly terms with each other. He must have had a special interest in Terran artifacts.
"Is it just the board, or does he have the chess pieces somewhere as well?"
"There is a drawer in the table; the chess pieces are inside it."
"Do you play?"
Spock shook his head. "I do not. No one in the palace does; hence, I have not had the opportunity to learn it."
"You have the opportunity now, if you wish to learn. I play it often and would be more than happy to teach you."
Spock's warm eyes met his. "Thank you, Sir. I would enjoy that very much."
They took a seat on each their side of the table, and Jim placed the pieces on the board and explained the rules before they started playing. It turned out Spock was an eager learner, and although he lost both the first and the second game (which was only to be expected), he was rather good for a beginner. In the middle of their third game, King Sarek entered the library and, upon seeing them at the chess board, walked over to them. They both stood to acknowledge his presence, but he gestured for them to sit down again.
"Please, continue. It has been a long time since I have seen this game played," Sarek said in a voice that seemed almost wistful, despite his face not giving any emotions away. "It is good to see the board being used again. Perhaps..." he began, pausing as if considering whether he really wanted to say what he was about to say, taking his time the way a king could without worrying that his listeners would become impatient. "Perhaps you would honour me with a game afterwards, James?"
Jim noticed the quickly hidden flash of surprise in Spock's eyes; apparently, he hadn't known King Sarek could play the game.
"Of course, Sire," Jim replied. "Spock and I have already played twice, so if you wish to play right away, we can end the game now. We will have more time to play afterwards," he said, then added, "Unless the Princess is feeling well enough to see me by then," remembering who he was expected to spend most of his time with.
"My daughter has informed me that she will most likely be resting in her chamber for the remainder of the day." Jim wondered if she was planning on sneaking out to meet Stonn. "It is regrettable, but hopefully she will be well enough to see you again tomorrow. As for ending the game, that will not be necessary; I am content to watch until you have finished playing."
Spock fetched another chair for the king to sit in – a chair much larger and heavier than Jim would have been able to carry as effortlessly as Spock did – before they continued their game. Sarek watched in silence, and Jim wondered if he could tell that Jim was letting Spock take some of his pieces. For that matter, Jim wondered if Spock could tell.
Sarek was not quite as good at the game as Jim was, but then Jim hardly ever met his match in chess apart from his mother, who had played it almost every night with King George, his father, before he had died, and then taught the game to Jim when he had become old enough. It was clear that Sarek had played it quite a few times before, however; either that, or he had a very strategic mind, which was not unlikely considering he was a king. Nonetheless, Jim tried to make things easier for his opponent again, but Sarek saw through him. "I appreciate your effort to make me think I am better at this game than I really am, James, but I assure you, it is not necessary. I am aware that I am not a very skilled chess player."
Jim looked up with surprise. "On the contrary, Sire. You're better than the majority of people I have played with."
"Indeed?" Sarek's brow furrowed, and he looked thoughtful. Just when Jim thought he wasn't going to say anything more, he continued. "I have never won a single game."
Jim woke to the sound of knocking on the door to his chamber. He got out of bed and put on the robe he had been lent before he called out for Spock to come in; he preferred sleeping naked, and while he didn't mind Spock seeing him without clothes, he didn't want it to seem like he was trying to expose his naked body to him every chance he got.
Spock entered with a tray of food and freshly squeezed juice from fruits that were grown in the gardens.
"The King had to leave early this morning," he said while Jim ate, "to meet the king of Romulus, who insisted that King Sarek travel immediately if he wanted to discuss the possibility of signing a peace treaty. He will not be back for at least four days, and he conveyed his regret that he had to leave while you are here."
Jim was fairly certain that this could not have been more convenient. "He need not regret it for my sake. This is wonderful news."
Spock cocked his head, and a delightful little wrinkle appeared between his eyebrows. He was becoming ever more expressive around Jim. "Why is it wonderful?"
"Because it means I don't have to feign courtship with T'Pring. She is free to be with Stonn as much as she pleases, and I will be able to... to spend most of my time with you," Jim said, and then, feeling sheepish, added, "That is, if you want to." He shouldn't presume that Spock wanted what he did.
"Sir, I am your personal servant while you are here; you may order me to spend time with you whenever you should wish to do so. What I want is irrelevant."
Jim's heart sank. So Spock didn't want to spend time with Jim; he was simply willing to do it because of his sense of duty. "No, it's not, Spock. If you do not want to spend time with me, then I don't want to ask you to do it. I don't just want to spend time with you; I also want you to enjoy yourself. And if you do not enjoy yourself when you're with me, then I'd rather you just do whatever it is you want to do, without me. I gain no joy from forcing you to do something you do not wish to do."
The wrinkle between Spock's eyebrows became more pronounced as he looked down, formulating an answer to what Jim had said. "Perhaps I did not express myself very well. I did not mean to imply that I do not enjoy your company, Sir. I believe... our wishes are in concordance," he said, not quite meeting Jim's eyes.
Jim could not keep the smile from his face. "I'm glad. But, one thing... please call me Jim. At least when we're in private, such as now."
Spock's eyes widened, and Jim recalled how he had called T'Pring Ma'am, even though they were friends. He wondered if he did that when no one else was around as well.
"Sir, I could not possibly address you with such familiarity."
"Spock, I don't want a 'master-servant' relationship between us; I want things to be as if we were equal. At the very least call me James?"
Spock took a deep breath and cast a glance to one side as if he wanted to look behind him to check if anyone was witnessing how inappropriately he was behaving around the Prince. "Very well, I shall try... James."
Jim felt his heart skip a beat once more. He knew that Spock was going against everything he had learned about proper behaviour as a servant, and he was doing it for Jim. "Thank you."
Their eyes met and held, and Jim couldn't think of anything else to say. His gaze fell to those bow-shaped lips, and he was just second away from doing something stupid (not that he thought it was a stupid thing to do, but there was still a possibility that Spock might) when Spock's hand moved towards his face, then stopped in mid-air. Jim wondered if he wanted to touch.
"You..." Spock let his hand fall again and his face took on a greenish tint. "Your facial hair grows faster than that of a Vulcan. Would you like a shave?"
Jim stroked his stubble with the back of his hand. A shave might not be so bad, especially if it involved having Spock touching him. He still remembered the feeling of Spock's hand covering his and Spock's heart beating wildly beneath his hand, and that kind of close contact with Spock was something he was pretty sure he could have every day for the rest of his life and still never get tired of.
"That would be very nice; thank you."
Spock went and got everything he needed for the shave, and then he had Jim sit in a chair that seemed suitable enough for it. Jim leaned back and let Spock begin, and soon enough his stubble was covered in shaving cream and one of Spock's hands was touching him, gently cradling his face and stretching the skin, while the other maneuvered the razor in short strokes. Spock's touch was comforting, and Jim felt certain he could have fallen asleep from the soothing feeling if he had closed his eyes. Instead, he kept his eyes open so he could see Spock as he concentrated on Jim's face. He was close – so close that Jim could feel his breath on his skin, and his mouth had fallen slightly open, just a few millimeters. Spock paused in the middle of shaving the stubble below Jim's lower lip and seemed lost in thought as he let the hand on Jim's skin stroke the newly shaven area. Jim let out a breathless sound that hit Spock's hand as a puff of air, and Spock startled, thankfully being mindful enough of the razor to pull it away from his skin rather than pushing into it. Neither of them mentioned his lapse in concentration as he finished shaving.
They did spend some of the time during the period that Sarek was gone with T'Pring, when she was not with Stonn; after all, she was Spock's friend, and Jim had started to take a definite liking to her. Especially since she seemed to be trying to help him get closer to Spock. On the second day, she suggested that while she would be meeting Stonn, Jim and Spock could each pick out a bow from her father's collection and go to the archery range, and that Jim could help Spock with his technique since archery was not something he had had much opportunity to try, given his duties as a servant.
Just as with chess Spock was eager to learn, but he did not have the talent for archery that he did for chess. After a number of times of not hitting the target, Jim stepped in behind Spock, their bodies mere inches away from each other. "Here," he said softly close to Spock's ear, placing a hand on his waist to keep him steady before he placed a leg inbetween Spock's to kick his feet further apart. "Like this." Spock froze for a moment before his body decided to melt against Jim, leaning back into him. Jim didn't mind; in fact, it was rather nice to have Spock molded against his body and being able to smell the warm desert scent of his skin, but it was ruining his posture, and Jim had to step forward, bringing them even closer together as he pushed Spock into the correct stance with his own body, drawing a soft gasp from the Vulcan. He guided Spock's draw arm gently into the right position with light touches, and Spock closed his eyes and dipped his head. "Sir—James..." Jim grinned and placed his hand on Spock's chin to lift it up again, and waited until Spock had opened his eyes and was focussing on the target once more. "Release," he spoke softly into Spock's ear, and Spock did, hitting the bull's eye.
"Princess T'Pring." Jim bowed his head. "Do you mind if I borrow Spock for a while?"
"Not at all. And I am certain Spock doesn't mind, either."
"Come with me. I have a surprise for you." Jim could not help himself; he was too eager to wait for Spock to come along and grabbed his hand. It had the opposite effect of what he wanted: Spock's body turned into an immovable, wide-eyed statue.
Jim was certain that the expression T'Pring bore was her own, subtle version of a smirk, but he did not have the time to ask before Spock began moving again, allowing Jim to pull him along until they reached the door to the hallway, where they both let go of each other, lest some of the other servants observe them holding hands, before stepping out into the hallway.
Jim slowed down as they neared the room where the surprise was. He hoped Spock would enjoy it, and that he would not misunderstand Jim's reason for doing this. He stopped in front of the door and pushed it open, and watched Spock's expression turn to one of confusion.
They stepped into the bathroom, where steam was rising from the bath; Jim had fetched warm water from the kitchen, much to the confusion of the cook and a couple of maids, and filled it for Spock. He assumed that, like in his mother's palace, servants did not use the bath, but instead cleansed themselves using simpler means, and he wanted to pamper Spock with a bit of luxury he was not usually able to experience.
"Sir," Spock said, forgetting to use Jim's name, "you did not have to do this on your own simply because I was in the library. If I had known that you wished to bathe—"
"This is not for me, Spock. It is for you."
Spock's mouth fell open. "I cannot— I am only a servant.
"No one will know. We'll close the latch on the door so no one can enter," Jim said as he walked over to the door and did just that, "and everyone will think I am the one who is in the bath."
Spock seemed to be searching for an answer, but finding none.
"And if it helps, I assure you that I have no licentious intentions," Jim said mirthfully. "I will happily turn away if that is your wish."
"I did not question your intentions, Sir—"
"James. You may face whichever way you wish," he said and blushed again, although Jim was uncertain whether it was because Spock realised that he, a servant, was giving a prince permission to do something or because of the prospect of having Jim seeing him naked.
He waited a few moments longer before he finally undressed. Jim did not stare, but it was impossible not to see, since he had not turned away. He saw Spock remove his clothing and fold it before he hesitantly climbed into the tub, finally sighing and closing his eyes as the warm water enveloped his body. Jim's fingers ached to run over the other's skin, to caress the soft flesh between his thighs until it hardened, but he reminded himself that that was not why he had done this.
Spock did not let himself enjoy the sensation of the water for long before he reached for the cloth and the bar of soap on the edge of the bath and began soaping up his skin in quick, economical movements.
"Spock." Jim stepped forward and took the cloth from him. "I did not carry all this water here just for you to finish up as quickly as possible," he admonished gently. "Relax and enjoy it. Close your eyes again and let me wash your back for you."
He poured water onto Spock's back before beginning to rub soap slowly in circles onto his skin with the cloth. He took his time, adding more soap to the cloth so that it slid easily across Spock's skin, making it glisten. Spock was breathing slowly and steadily with his eyes closed, and Jim did not want to ruin it by stopping. "It's relaxing, is it not? I can wash your arms as well if you wish," he suggested as he poured more water over Spock's back to rinse off the soap, and Spock murmured his assent. Jim stepped to the side of the bath and held Spock's arm out, massaging it with the cloth, beginning with the upper arm and working his way down. When he reached Spock's hand he began rubbing each individual finger with the cloth, and a shiver went through Spock and he opened his eyes. Jim worried that he had ruined Spock's tranquility, but Spock seemed relaxed still, his eyes half-lidded, and within seconds they were closed again. The shiver was repeated when Spock's other hand received the same treatment, but this time his eyes did not open until Jim pressed the cloth into his hand again so he could finish cleaning himself.
Spock continued the same way Jim had done it – slowly rubbing in circles and massaging the skin. "This is... so calming," Spock said. "I did not know it would feel this way; it is very different from what I am used to. I am not even supposed to be here." Spock looked slightly bashful as he said it.
"It's unfair that you can't do this anytime you want.You deserve to be bathed like a king."
Spock furrowed his brow and looked at Jim.
"But I am not."
When Sarek came back after four days, Jim admitted to himself that he was disappointed that the King had not been delayed. It was not that he found Sarek a disagreeable man; he simply wished he could have spent more time as freely with Spock as he had the last four days.
After a dinner where Sarek informed T'Pring and Jim of how the negotiations had gone and of the new peace treaty between Vulcan and Romulus, Sarek requested another chess match with Jim.
Once again, the King showed considerable skill, and Jim could not help but wonder how he had been able to learn the game back when there had hardly been any contact at all between Terrans and Vulcans. "If I may ask..." he began, looking up at Sarek, who nodded for him to continue his question. "Where did you learn how to play chess?"
The King stayed silent for a while, and Jim had almost begun to think he would not answer when he finally did. "I knew a Terran once, many years ago." His voice was wistful again, and this time when he fell silent, he remained so. Jim supposed that if Sarek had known a Terran, this would explain how the King had acquired Terran objects. He wanted to ask about the Terran, but the King's countenance was closed off and suggested that further questions would not be appreciated, so Jim joined him in his silence as they continued playing.
When they had finished the game, Sarek rose, and Jim did the same. "I believe I will retire now," the King said. "But... there is one thing I wish to ask before I go. Have you proposed to my daughter yet?"
"Not yet, Sire," Jim responded, realising that Sarek might want him to do so soon. "I... do not want to propose without a ring. Perhaps you know of a good jeweller somewhere in the kingdom that I can visit before coming back here to propose," he said, hoping to buy himself some more time.
Sarek seemed pleased with his answer. "The very best jeweller's shop that I know of is in Sahkohr; it is half a day's ride away from here. If you leave shortly after dawn tomorrow, you may be able to get there before he closes his shop, and you can stay the night in one of the taverns nearby."
Two days away from the palace – that meant they would be back the day before T'Pring and Stonn was to elope, if the priest had arrived by then.
"I am aware that you prefer to travel alone," the King continued, "but if you bring Spock, he will be able to show you the way.
Jim made an effort not to smile. He most certainly did not mind travelling with someone else when that someone else was Spock. "Then I shall do so; I am certain I will get there faster if I bring him with me."
"Very well. I shall make certain that there will be an early breakfast prepared for you tomorrow, as well as food and flasks of water to bring with you on the ride."
"Thank you, Sire; that is very kind."
They bid each other good night, and Jim went to inform first Spock and then T'Pring of this turn of events.
During the ride to Sahkohr Spock seemed more at ease in Jim's company than he had the first time they had ridden together, and their mounts occasionally came close enough that Jim and Spock's legs brushed against each other. Jim felt a fluttering sensation in his stomach when he realised that Spock glanced in his direction whenever it happened, yet did not pull his mount away.
When they had ridden a while and had reached an area where no one else was in sight, Jim halted his horse and dismounted it, and Spock followed suit. Jim knew he could have done this while remaining on his horse, but he preferred taking the opportunity to get closer to Spock. He opened his saddlebag and pulled out his flask, and the garment underneath it that he had packed. "Here. I thought perhaps you could wear this instead of the tunic you have on." It was one of Jim's own tunics, more embellished and of a better quality than Spock's own, and without the emblem of the Vulcan royal court. "I want you to ride with me as my equal, not a servant."
"Sir... James. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I have experienced things that I would not normally have been able to experience while you have been here, but..." He looked away with a quiet huff of frustration. "I am a servant. Nothing will change that. No matter what you do, I will still be a servant."
Jim squeezed Spock's shoulder. "I don't want it to be like that."
Spock hesitated, then tentatively put his own hand over Jim's. "I know. But being a servant is not so awful, James. I don't mind being a servant. That is to say, I didn't mind until..."
Jim hoped the sentence might end with "until I met you and couldn't have you because of our difference in status," but Spock didn't finish it. Instead, he said, "In any case, there is nothing you can do about it," and stepped away. However, he didn't remain too far away as they ate and drank, and Jim couldn't help but hope that maybe Spock was as drawn to him as he was to Spock. If he was, then... Jim would find a way. He would.
They did arrive at the jeweller's shop while it was still open, and they entered. Despite having no plans to propose to T'Pring, Jim still had to buy a ring so as not to raise Sarek's suspicions.
He strolled through the shop, Spock at his side, and as they admired the finely crafted jewellery he noticed that one piece in particular caught Spock's attention. It was a pendant shaped in the form of some kind of symbol that Jim did not recognise; it looked like what might be a silver pyramid in front of a golden sun – if the sun had a circular hole in it – with a bright white gem at the top of the pyramid, in the middle of the hole. He touched the pendant. "What is this symbol?"
"It is the IDIC – it stands for 'infinite diversity in infinite combinations'."
Jim could understand how that would hold a special meaning for Spock, considering that he believed himself to be half Terran. And somehow, Jim had the feeling that he was.
"I like it."
"I, as well," Spock said, lingering in front of the pendant a moment before moving on.
Jim looked up to check that the jeweller was still, as he had been when they walked in, helping another customer. "Spock..." he said, feeling guilty that he was about to ask Spock to do something when he had said he didn't want Spock to be his servant. "Perhaps you could go to the inn on the other side of the street and get us a room while I wait to talk to the jeweller? I will come as soon as I have bought a ring for the Princess."
"Very well," Spock said and bowed his head as Jim handed him two silver coins.
When Jim was done at the jeweller's, Spock was waiting for him inside the inn, and they went up to their room. It was simple; small, and with one bed on each side of the room and a commode in the middle. There was a wash basin and a pitcher on top of the commode, and Jim knew there would be a chamber pot inside it, which was welcome since it had been several hours since they last had taken a break from riding.
When both had relieved themselves and washed up, Jim put his hand in his pocket and fingered the two small cloth pouches in there to find out which was which, then closed his hand around the correct one and pulled it out.
"Spock. Put out your hand."
Spock looked confused, but did as Jim told him. Jim put the pouch in his hand, and felt his heart start beating faster in anticipation of Spock's reaction. He hoped Spock wouldn't reject it because it was inappropriate for a servant to receive such a gift from a prince. It was clearly something that Spock really wanted, and Jim wanted nothing more than for Spock to have it. If Spock had wanted the whole world, Jim would have done his very best to give it to him.
"This is for you. Open it."
Spock blinked slowly, and Jim wondered if he had already guessed what it was. He simply looked at it for a while, and then he undid the string which held the pouch closed and retrieved the item inside the pouch.
Spock's breath left him as he stared at the silver and gold object in his hand, attached to a chain that dangled from his fingers.
"I saw that it would mean a lot to you, so I wanted you to have it."
"James..." Spock looked at him in awe. "I cannot—"
"Yes," Jim said softly, and closed his hand around Spock's and the pendant. "You can. I can give gifts to whomever I choose, and there is no one I would rather offer a gift like this than you."
Spock's eyes seemed to search Jim's before they finally fell to their joined hands. "Thank you. This is the most precious thing I have ever been given."
"Here," said Jim, taking the necklace from Spock's hand. "Let me put it on you." He walked behind Spock, standing close, and laid it gently around his neck and fastened the chain. "There you go." He left his hand on the back of Spock's neck, unable to step away.
"James..." Spock's voice sounded hoarse. He turned around, took a deep breath and looked Jim in the eyes. "James, do you wish for me share your bed tonight?"
Jim stared as desire went straight to his gut. Yes.
Spock quickly looked away again and blushed. "I hope I am not being presumptuous. I had thought, based on your behaviour, that this was something you might want."
"It is," Jim rushed to assure him. "Very much so. But not if you're offering because you think you have to repay me in some way."
Spock shook his head. "No. James, I— Ever since you first—" He didn't manage to finish his sentence, but his eyes were pleading Jim to understand, and Jim breathed a sigh in relief before reaching out to cradle Spock's face gently in his hands, bending his own head forward until their foreheads touched.
"Spock. May I kiss you?"
One of Spock's hands twitched by his side, and he sounded breathless. "Yes."
Jim's lips found Spock's as if by magnetic force, and Spock let out a quiet moan against Jim's mouth. They parted, and Spock sighed. "So that is what a Terran kiss is like."
"A Terran kiss?" Jim asked, his curiosity piqued. "Do Vulcans kiss differently?"
"Vulcans kiss... with their hands," Spock said, shyly bringing one of his hands up to grasp Jim's, then stroking sensuously along it.
"Oh, so that is why – when I grabbed your hand... and when I washed your hands in the bath..."
"You didn't stop me."
"I did not want to."
Jim couldn't resist – he had to kiss Spock again. This time, he parted Spock's lips gently with his own, and the Vulcan gasped softly into his mouth as his tongue slipped inside.
Soon enough, Spock understood how to kiss back, and he moaned as their tongues slid together while he was doing something similar with their hands. His breath came in soft puffs against Jim's skin when they broke apart, and Jim gripped the hand caressing his and pulled Spock with him onto the nearest bed, where they landed on their sides.
They continued kissing, and Spock seemed to enjoy it – he kept moaning into the kisses, his voice vibrating against Jim's lips, and began thrusting his hips seemingly unconsciously into the air between them, and Jim grabbed him by one hip and pulled him closer until he could feel Spock's hardness through their clothes. He began thrusting his own hardness against it, and Spock grasped Jim's arms and keened. "James... James..."
"Call me Jim now. Please?"
Spock stopped himself and bit his lip until a drop of green spilled out. Jim stared at it, transfixed by the colour, and then he had to taste. He groaned as the metallic taste hit his tastebuds, and he pulled his own and Spock's garments out of the way until he could grip both their members in his hand.
Spock sobbed as Jim began stroking them both at the same time. "James, please..."
"Jim," he said breathily into Spock's ear. "Now that we are making love, you can call me Jim. I want you to say it when you come."
Something about that seemed to drive Spock even closer to the edge, and he began thrusting fast against Jim again while Jim struggled to keep his grip on them both. Finally, Spock's movements became stuttered, and he let out a moaned "Oh, Jim!" as he spilled over Jim's hand, and it didn't take long before Jim went over the edge as well, his hand speeding over his cock, slick with Spock's sperm.
Spock sighed and buried his his nose in Jim's neck. "Thank you, Jim. I did not know it would feel so good."
"You were a virgin?" Jim asked.
They did it once more before they went to bed that night, and this time Jim showed Spock the pleasure a mouth could give.
The next morning Jim awoke with Spock curled up against him, an arm slung around Jim's middle as if afraid that he would leave, and Jim felt his heart breaking a little bit at the thought of going back to the Vulcan royal palace and not having this. Not having Spock. He brushed Spock's hair away from his forehead and kissed it, and the Vulcan blinked his eyes open.
"Good morning... Jim."
Jim smiled at the sound of the familiar form of his name on Spock's lips.
"Good morning. How are you feeling?"
Spock didn't answer in words, but his refusal to meet Jim's eyes and the way he squeezed Jim tighter was enough.
"I... am still a servant."
Despite Spock's unhappiness, Jim felt elated at those words. He knew how to read between the lines, and this meant Spock didn't want this to end.
"Do you want us to be together?"
Spock blinked, and Jim could tell what he was thinking. Impossible. But it wasn't. Jim curled a hand around the back of Spock's neck. "T'Pring and Stonn are eloping. Let's do the same. I'm sure the priest who is to wed them will do the same for us. Marry me, Spock."
The Vulcan's mouth fell open. "You... are serious?"
"Completely. I wish to spend my life with you."
"And if your mother will not allow you to be heir to the Terran throne anymore because of it?"
"She wouldn't do that; my only brother died from illness when I was young. And even if she did... I don't care."
Spock's forehead came to rest against Jim's, and he drew a deep breath with his eyes closed and let it slowly out again, before his lips curved up. "Then yes. I will marry you, Jim."
When they arrived back at the palace, dinner was in the making, and Jim followed Spock into the kitchen where he was fetching water for a bath for Jim before dinner. The cook was stirring a pot of something that looked a lot more homely than anything Jim had ever seen served in a royal palace and smelled delicious.
"What are you cooking?" he asked the rotund Vulcan lady as Spock left the kitchen with two buckets of hot water from the large cauldron. "The smell reminds me of a stew I sometimes order at taverns in Terra."
"It is based on a Terran dish, but the ingredients in it are Vulcan. It is His Majesty's favourite dish."
How come the King is so fond of Terran things? Jim wanted to ask, but considering how the King hadn't seemed willing to talk about it, he decided to ask a different question, hoping that the more subtle approach would bring him the answers he wanted.
"Why Terran? Where did you get the recipe?"
"There used to be a Terran maid working here, many years back. She used to make this."
Jim's head snapped up from where he had been looking at the contents of the pot at that piece of information, and he immediately hoped she hadn't noticed, but she was reaching for some spices and didn't seem to have seen the movement.
"A Terran working here, before Vulcan and Terra were even on friendly terms? How could that be?"
"She had been captured in Terra by a band of Klingons, who brought her with them as they came to raid a small Vulcan village near the wall. Some of the King's soldiers were nearby and defeated the Klingons, and she was brought here for the King to decide what would be done with her. He gave her the choice between going back to Terra, or staying here and working at the palace. She had come from a poor family and would be better off here, so she chose to remain."
While she was talking, Jim's mind was racing to make the connections. These things had to be connected, hadn't they? They couldn't be coincidences.
"I have also heard someone say his mother was a Terran"
"The only thing I know for certain is that the staff who did work here at the time wanted to care for him"
"My blood is a lighter green than that of other Vulcans. And my heart... it is situated somewhat higher than in a normal Vulcan."
"I knew a Terran once, many years ago."
Spock's mother was a Terran. There had been a Terran woman working at the palace, and how likely was it that there had been two Terrans in Vulcan at the time? And King Sarek had been fond of this Terran woman; this was obvious to Jim now that he thought back to how Sarek had behaved, and how he seemed to collect Terran things. Who would get hold of a Terran chess board, during a time when it would have been difficult to obtain Terran objects at all, for a mere maid?
"This Terran... did she quit her job at the palace?"
The cook looked down. "Yes. She left."
"How many years ago?" Spock was twenty-one.
Spock came back in again to fetch more water, and the cook seemed to shake herself. "I cannot remember, exactly," she said, suddenly very busy with looking at the contents of the pot as she stirred.
Jim knew that Vulcan memory was excellent.
Jim didn't mention anything to Spock during his bath, nor did he try to get the Vulcan to share the bath with him. He was too distracted. He needed more time to think about it; to make sure there wasn't anything that pointed to him being wrong. Nor did he say anything to the King (who was probably the last person he should mention any suspicions to) when he asked to see the ring Jim had bought, nor to T'Pring when he went to see her in the pretense of proposing.
"Here is the ring," he said as he pulled the small pouch from his pocket, feeling none of the excitement he had felt when he had handed Spock his pendant. "You should wear it for your father to see."
T'Pring nodded and slid the ring onto her finger.
"I will not have to wear it for long; the priest should be in town tomorrow morning, so I will leave the palace before dawn."
Jim gave her a lopsided smile. "Do you think the priest will be willing to wed not only one eloping couple tomorrow, but two?"
T'Pring's eyebrows quirked in surprise. "You and Spock?"
Jim couldn't keep grin off his face if he tried. "Me and Spock."
"Well, then." T'Pring's approximation of a smile appeared. "I suppose congratulations are in order. I trust you will take good care of him?"
"I will. I promise."
"Good. I am certain it will not present a problem that two couples are to be wed instead of one. Stonn will come here in the morning, and when he was arrived, I will alert you and Spock so we can all leave together."
"Thank you. I will let Spock know."
That night, Spock stayed with Jim in his chamber; he could not sleep in the same room as some of the other servants if they were to leave before dawn, and it would raise no suspicions among the servants that he wasn't there as he would sometimes stay up and read until he fell asleep in the library.
Despite the fact that they pleasured each other with their hands and mouths in the evening, Jim was not able to fall asleep afterwards even though lovemaking usually made him sleepy; he was too jittery and nervous that something might still go wrong and prevent them from marrying. He ended up mulling over the information he had been given earlier that day about the Terran maid, and tried to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. There was one in particular that he just couldn't figure out: if Sarek was Spock's father, then why had Spock been raised as a servant and not heir to the throne? The only thing he could think of was that Sarek had found it too scandalous to have made a servant pregnant and wanted to hide it from the public, but there were other ways he could have done that; he could have claimed to have adopted Spock. And what had happened to Spock's mother? Had she really been deathly ill and left?
Jim was still thinking about these things when he heard a voice from somewhere in the palace. A male voice. The King's voice, he realised. No! The King wasn't supposed to be awake now! And then he heard T'Pring's voice, and another male voice... this wasn't good. He shook Spock awake.
They were both silent for a moment while they listened to the voices coming from somewhere outside the door. They were too muffled for Jim to make out, but the King sounded angry.
"He discovered Stonn," Spock said, his Vulcan hearing being better than Jim's. "And he has divined their intention to elope."
"I will go out," Jim said. "Stay here." It would probably only make things worse if Jim and Spock came out of Jim's chamber together.
He walked toward the voices until the three Vulcan's became visible, and King Sarek turned toward him. "James. You have my deepest apologies; it seems my daughter has been deceiving us both and had planned to elope with Stonn. But you need not worry; I caught them in time, and will summon a priest as soon as possible so you may marry."
"No!" The word was out of Jim's mouth before he could stop it. "She has not been deceiving me, Sire. Neither of us wished to marry each other."
Sarek frowned, and his mouth set in a grim line. "Then what of the royal wedding between Vulcan and Terra? This is not just about a simple matrimony; this is about politics. You cannot just ignore your duties as heir to the throne of your kingdome, just as my daughter cannot ignore hers."
"With all due respect, Sire, this is about love." And suddenly, for seemingly no reason, except perhaps that this was the time when Jim needed it the most, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place for him. "And... I should think that is something that you are familiar with. And there may still be a way to achieve this royal wedding without making me and the Princess marry each other. That is, if... she does not mind giving up her rights as heir to the throne?"
He looked over at T'Pring, only to see her giving him a completely blank look back. Of course. She was clueless as to what he was talking about.
"What would that accomplish?" Sarek demanded. "There are no others to take over as heir."
"Actually... there is. You just don't know it. Your servants kept it hidden from you because they did not want you to have to suffer a scandal. I take it you remember your Terran maid?"
Sarek's mouth fell open. "Amanda? But she—"
"Forgive me if I'm wrong, Sire, but I am almost certain I have figured this out now; your relationship was more than that of master and servant, was it not?"
Sarek didn't answer, but kept staring at Jim as if desperately wanting to hear the rest of what he had to say.
"She became pregnant and left, so that it would not become known that you had made a mere servant pregnant. During her pregnancy, she became ill, and knew that she would die not long after delivering the baby."
Sarek's frown became more pained, and Jim felt sorry for him.
There was the sound of footsteps behind Jim, and he turned around to see Spock approaching. He looked warily between Sarek and Jim, probably having guessed where the story was going, but Sarek still looked lost; it was likely that he had not heard the rumours about Spock's Terran mother, since he had not put two and two together before.
Jim continued. "After giving birth, she came to the only place where she knew she had friends who would take care of the child – this palace. Your servants took the child – with your permission, although you did not know whose child it was – and he was raised here. As a servant. At least, that is what I believe to be true. You may ask the cook; I think she knows."
Sarek looked entirely helpless as he stared at Spock, then took two steps back. "Remain here," he said – although Jim was sure who he said it to – Spock? Jim? All of them? – before he turned around and headed for the servants' chambers.
"Is it true?" Spock asked. T'Pring looked as if she, too, had questions, but remained silent so Spock could ask his.
"I think so," Jim said, taking Spock's hand and squeezing it. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you first; I only started suspecting it yesterday, when the cook told me there had been a Terran maid working here, and I didn't feel certain until right now; suddenly it all made sense."
"So I am... the King's son." Spock blinked.
"Well, let's hear what the cook has to say. I'm sorry if I'm wrong."
Sarek came back, looking just as helpless as when he had left. "It... is true," he said, walking toward Spock, then coming to a halt a couple of feet in front of him, hands clenching at his sides as if not knowing what to do with them. Spock looked equally uncertain as to what to do.
T'Pring was the one to take action, coming forward and hugging Spock in a display of emotion Jim had never seen from her before. "This means you are my brother, Spock. Not biologically, perhaps, but you are still my brother." She released him with one arm, then reached for her father and pulled him into the hug, and eventually, all three Vulcans had managed to awkwardly place limbs around each other. When they pulled apart, Sarek looked at Spock – really looked.
"I don't know how I never saw it. You look so much like your mother. I shall have to tell you everything about her."
"I would appreciate that greatly," Spock said, bowing his head.
"You will have to get used to not bowing so much," T'Pring said to him. "I will gladly give up the right to the throne, Spock, if it means we can both marry who we wish." She grabbed Stonn's hand.
Spock looked between T'Pring, Sarek and Jim as if waiting for an order, uncertain as to what to do.
"Am I to understand that you would marry James, Spock?" Sarek asked.
Spock stepped next to Jim and took his hand. "Yes. We were going to elope, also." He blushed and looked down – Jim supposed he was ashamed that he had been going against what had been his King's wishes at the time.
"Then, if you are willing to become the crown prince of Vulcan, it seems we have a solution to everyone's problems."
"This is all somewhat overwhelming." Spock looked at Jim. "But as long as I can marry Jim, I am willing to do it."
Jim's smile was as wide as his mouth would let him, and he leaned in to give Spock a kiss and then hugged him as tight as he could. "Don't you worry, I'll teach you all about how to be a crown prince."
A month later, Spock had developed a more familiar relationship with his father and sister and learned much about his mother, and had also learned a lot from Jim, both about being a crown prince and about other, less innocent things, and as they stood in front of the priest along with T'Pring and Stonn, Winona (who had been surprised but not displeased by the unexpected turn of events) and Sarek looked proudly on from the front row. And when Jim kissed his new husband, he just knew that they would live happily ever after.