When Jim had saved the universe from that crazy Romulan, for some reason he hadn’t expected “the universe” to include Vulcans. At the time, he hadn’t been terribly concerned about it. Jim was young, as young as some of the newest recruits, but he’d paid his dues while still in that same youth, becoming part of the Terran Military organization known as Starfleet almost as soon as he could walk (or at least that’s what it felt like.) He’d accepted every crummy job they gave him from spying to sabotage, and he’d gradually worked himself up to border control, until he was finally given charge of one of the elite, seventy-person ships that kept the very devil at bay. He’d earned it through hard work and guts and sheer persistence (stupidity, some people would say) and it was his, more his than any piece of land he’d ever stood on. When that ship that looked like some sort of deformed black pinecone came shooting through space towards who knows where, what was he supposed to think? He was border control, and although his job description was technically more along the lines of “border control against Vulcan invasion,” a threat was a threat no matter the source. If he had needed any justification for his instant reaction of giving chase, the scattered remains of his friend Tracey’s ship had been enough: that massive vessel had weapons, lots of them, and they weren’t being very particular about who they used them on.
And his tiny ship was all that stood between them and innocent people on possibly thousands of planets. His tiny ship that was overlooked because it wasn’t a danger, wasn’t anything at all to something that—according to his over-excitable science officer—was a thousand times the size of Jupiter.
It was only by pure luck that Jim made it inside. Somehow their shields had been down and his genius head engineer had been able to whip something up, a tiny fragment of extra material that was easy enough to place and that definitely didn’t belong in their engines, and the rest had been history. Or future. Whatever. The problem came when everything was said and done and that horrible failure of engineering that was the Romulan mining vessel was only bits and pieces sucked into a black hole. The problem being that Jim had, unknowingly, followed the ship into Vulcan space.
The Vulcans were not happy. And that, in the end, led him to the worst place he could ever imagine.
Admiral Pike’s office.
Pike was something like a second father to him, if a father was someone who kicked you in the ass when you were being bad and promoted you when you were being good—he wasn’t sure, not having had much experience with fathers himself. But as this father figure that Jim was pretty sure he was, his opinion mattered more than a little to a twenty-something captain trying to make him proud. Unfortunately, Pike was also almost impossible to impress, so usually Jim just settled for not pissing him off. Most of the time, he succeeded.
This was not one of those times, as evidenced by the scowl that appeared on Pike’s handsome and well-lined face the moment Jim walked through the door.
“Jim. What did you do?”
Jim didn’t think “save the universe, duh” was the right answer, and so he stayed silent. Mostly.
“I swear, Pike, it wasn’t my fault! There was a ship—”
“I know.” Pike’s scowl disappeared, to be replaced with a resigned, tired expression that he attempted to wipe away with one hand.
“Jim, we received a transmission from the Vulcan High Council this morning.”
Jim blanched; he couldn’t help it, and he knew it, he just knew it. Bastards.
“Did they declare war?” And to think, he had saved their sorry hides. Now the open conflict they had been trying to prevent for years—striving to prevent with everything they had—was finally happening. Must have been happening.
But Pike just shook his head, and Jim was confused.
“No. They want to form an alliance.”
Jim gaped. It was undignified and it didn’t match the captain-face he tried to wear during these sorts of talks, but he couldn’t help it.
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I. But sure as hell, it’s here.” Pike turned the flickering screen of his computer towards him, and Jim saw small, even columns of complicated lettering. He sighed.
“Pike, I don’t read Vulcan.”
“It’s classified, anyway.” The screen was turned away, and Pike tapped his fingers furiously on his desk. His scowl was fiercer than ever at what should have been good news, and Jim felt the residual traces of nerves whip themselves into a frenzy in his stomach.
“There’s something else, isn’t there? It’s not a normal alliance.” With Vulcans, nothing was ever normal.
“Yes. What they’re proposing is, er, archaic. We haven’t done it on Earth for a good thousand years or so.”
Jim sat in the nearest chair, heavily. Not because he was surprised—rather the opposite.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s never worked! Like, never!”
Jim might not have been as entrenched in academia as some of the people his age (useless people, his mind insisted) but he knew his history, and most every country on Earth had a long history of those things not working out. It was nuts.
Pike gave him a look that said he agreed.
“Apparently the Vulcans have had more luck with it. They have the idea that they can form these “unions,” give a few humans an eventual seat on their council, take a few seats on ours, and everything will be hunky-dory.”
The idea was simplistic, too simplistic. Considering the Vulcans had been making things needlessly complicated for years, making negotiations difficult and impossible and dangerous, a few marriages shouldn’t have made a difference.
The stranger thing, though, was that Starfleet had apparently agreed to it.
“There’s got to be more to it than that. There has to be.”
“There is. One of the main things being this.”
Pike tapped a small device on his desk, and rapidly blinking lights emerged, forming a hologram in an impressive four colors. The rotating angle made it clear that the image was an object, well-designed and no doubt on the way to construction.
“Is that a ship?”
The ship shimmered tantalizingly for a moment longer, and then Pike switched it off. Curiously, the heavy disk was then handed to Jim.
“Yes. It’s a prototype we’ve been working on for the past eight or nine years. We haven’t had the resources to construct them, not with a large portion of our fleet on border control constantly. But if we ally with the Vulcans…”
Jim felt the weight of the idea in his palm, remembered the holograph clearly, and he swallowed.
“You can make these ships? How many?”
“We have eight planned, maybe more. But Jim, they need captains.”
Jim caught his breath, and he turned the holograph on again, setting it carefully on the edge of the desk. He could see the outline of the saucer section, the forward nacelles three times larger than those in his tiny ship, the body that could hold a crew of dozens, maybe even hundreds.
“Are you offering me a ship?”
“You’re first up, Jim. But…there are some conditions.”
It all made sense, and the holograph ended suddenly, like so many of his dreams. This time, however, Jim refused to just let it escape.
“I’m going to be in one of these marriages, right? To get that ship?”
“That was the plan. You can say “no,” of course; eventually you’ll come up for one of the later ships, but the first five are for the officers who agree to be part of this merger.”
Jim knew why Pike offered the out: he thought Jim was still bitter about his father dying in the latest Vulcan skirmish. While that was true, he was also ambitious, and the stars called to him.
“And how long a wait would it be if I refuse? Years? Decades? I can’t wait that long, Pike.”
Space was the only place he really felt welcome, his only home, and Pike knew it. Pike knew it, and he was manipulating him, because those marriages—that alliance—needed volunteers too.
“I know. I’m sorry, Jim.” Pike’s eyes were sad as he stretched out a hand, ready to accept the device again, ready for Jim to walk out of his office without a backward glance. Jim was glad he gave him the choice, even if it was no choice at all.
He kept the projector, sliding it smoothly into his jacket; he would look at it any time he doubted the decision he was about to make.
“Fine. I’ll do it.”
Pike looked surprised, but he pulled his hand back.
“Jim, there are more conditions—”
“What? Do I have to love her? Treat her well? Stay faithful? I never expected to get married, Pike,” he warned, feeling like Pike had to know about Jim’s wandering heart. At least this way he’d get a few children out of the deal, maybe even to follow in his footsteps when he was old and gray.
Pike crushed those dreams too.
“It isn’t a ‘she.’”
Jim wasn’t as confused as he should have been, but he was angry. Very, very angry.
“A man? I’m marrying a man?”
“Well, no. Technically you’re marrying a male Vulcan.” Pike held up his hands in defense when Jim glared at him. “What can I say, Jim? They didn’t want any children from the situation, no babies having to pick a side if it all ended badly. The only way they could be sure is if the parts didn’t mesh.”
“You expect me—me!—to spend the rest of my life with a man? Pike, I love women—there isn’t a man on Earth who could ever be enough.” Jim may not have had the most discriminate of tastes, but he knew his weaknesses: a beautiful woman could bring him to his knees, but a beautiful man could maybe only attract his attention, and only for a little while.
Pike just sighed.
“Fortunately your husband is on Vulcan…and no one said you had to be faithful. Ideally you should be faithful, of course, but if you must pursue any extra-curricular activities—”
Jim grinned; even in the current situation, he couldn’t help it.
“—then just make sure you don’t have any brats running around, okay? Be discreet.”
“Hey, “discreet” is my middle name.”
Pike looked at him without amusement.
“I thought your middle name was “Tomcat,” Jim.”
Pike shook his head, and Jim sobered. All joking aside, Pike did have a point.
Keep it in your pants, Jimmy T. Just for a little while.
Pike echoed the thought, more or less, and almost to himself.
“I hope you don’t screw this up, Jim.”
Jim didn’t respond, because he knew that “me, too” wasn’t the right answer.
It was weird being in a shuttle bound for Vulcan, their not-so-distant enemy, and it was weirder still that he was riding Federation first-class. The seats were comfy (a rarity in military travel), the provided food was delicious, the company pleasant enough…but none of it helped. Jim sat straight and tense on those soft seats. The food sat like a two-ton spaceship in his stomach. As for the company…well.
“What the hell is this? We’re flying into a possible trap with a bunch of green-blooded demons, and they think it’s best if we do it in a tuna can?”
Jim laughed dryly and took a sip of his complimentary gin and tonic, the last he’d have for at least a year because Vulcans didn’t drink alcohol.
“Bones. You didn’t have to come.”
His friend—his oldest friend—just scowled from the seat next to him.
“And leave you in the hands of Vulcan medics? They said you could bring your own doctor, so here I am.”
Jim smiled, the expression fond and somewhat exasperated. He wondered if it was a big, cosmic joke—flying off to marry a man he didn’t know when his best friend was right beside him.
“For a year. Maybe longer, if they insist on it. On Vulcan.” And Bones hated the desert, hated the dry heat, hated everything about it even without the presence of stiff, uncompromising, cold Vulcans. Jim, however, couldn’t have been happier to have him along… even if he knew Bones’ motives were less than selfless.
Bones looked expectedly somber as he stared out the window, seemingly not bothered by the vastness of space despite his complaints.
“No one will miss me at home, Jim.”
Jim thought about saying “your daughter will,” but he didn’t. It would only open up a whole big set of issues that he knew his friend wanted to avoid with this extended leave, and so he didn’t say anything. But he thought it.
Bones’ single person (two, maybe, on a good day and when Jocelyn wasn’t threatening divorce) was still more than the zero he had waiting for him, even if Pike didn’t exactly hate him and some of his friends weren’t exactly impartial either.
“Jim! Hey, Jimmy!”
Jim scowled, remembering the rest of the company. Starfleet had needed five volunteers, and—somewhat surprisingly—they’d gotten them almost as soon as the news was out, an astonishing number of people willing to line up and marry the mysterious five Vulcans who’d also (supposedly) volunteered.
The first one (after Jim, of course) had been a surprise—Lieutenant Kyle wasn’t exactly the most sensitive man or the most forgiving, and his family had been killed in one of the earlier attacks before tentative peace was declared…but he was ambitious, and a jump in rank and a ship waiting for him had to make any grudge seem a bit smaller. The second and the third volunteers were a bit less out of left field, similar to Jim—Captain Wesley was a leader in his own right who just wanted a little bit more, and Dalton Archer was the most recent in a long line of men in his family who explored space. All three of them were good men in their hearts, no doubt would make decent husbands over time, and—if they had been the only other volunteers—Jim would have considered being stuck with them and their doctors okay. Not ideal, but okay.
But the fifth “Unifier” was Sean Finnegan, and Jim couldn’t think of a person he’d less like to spend a year with. He was almost sorry for the Vulcan Finnegan ended up with, actually, and that was saying something. Saying a lot.
“Jim, stop staring into space and come talk to me! Don’t you want to be friends?”
Finnegan was also inexplicably cheerful, although hell if Jim knew why. He closed his eyes, afraid that if he didn’t he’d glare at his amused friend beside him. Bones didn’t like Finnegan much either, but if there was one thing Bones did like, it was making Jim feel painfully embarrassed.
“Finnegan, I’m try to sleep, alright?”
In response, Finnegan plopped into the empty seat at Jim’s side. Jim had no choice but to stare at his unwelcome companion in resignation, noting with some amusement that Bones immediately feigned sleep himself.
“Ah, come on. Don’t you even want to talk about it, Captain Jim? I mean, this is your future husband we’re talking about.”
Finnegan cackled and gestured with his own glass, nearly knocking over the last dregs of Jim’s drink.
“Finny, you’re getting married too.” Then, catching a whiff of strong scotch, he added cheerfully: “And you’ll be living on Vulcan for a year, with no alcohol.”
Finnegan just shrugged, the gesture surprisingly non-threatening despite the wide stretch of his heavily muscled shoulders.
“Who cares? I’m charming, Jim—I’m sure I’ll get the best-looking one. Hell, maybe they’ll even be young. What do you think? Will you get an ugly one? You are a troublemaker, after all. Not respectable.”
Finnegan seemed to have forgotten who exactly had saved the damn universe, but Jim didn’t argue with him. Didn’t bother.
“Finnegan, I don’t give a damn who I end up with. Vulcans are all the same, right?”
Finnegan laughingly agreed, and Jim was surprised to find that he actually meant it himself.
Vulcans are all the same…It said a depressing amount about his future, actually, that the details of his marriage meant so little to him; Jim tried not to think about it as he spent the rest of the ride deliberately ignoring Finnegan.