When James T. Kirk relieves Admiral Pike of command of the starship Enterprise, he already knows there are a lot of expectations resting on his youthful shoulders. Youngest captain of a constitution-class starship in the history of Starfleet? Check. Unprecedented promotion of a cadet to a command rank? Check. Son of George Kirk, made famous to an almost ridiculous degree by the Kelvin disaster? Check. But ironically none of these things are what are really weighing on him as he accepts his promotion.
He can't get the things he glimpsed from Ambassador Spock's mind during their meld out of his head. Not simply the fact that in the Ambassador's time, he was a well-respected Admiral, but also that he and Spock were... close. Very close. And though the Ambassador has not actually said as much, Kirk has gathered, later (on careful recollection and through some particularly vivid wet dreams) that the older Spock and the older Kirk, the other Kirk, were much more to each other than friends.
Jim tries to keep all this shit out of his mind as he and his crew depart on their five-year mission; it isn't as if they don't already have enough of other peoples' expectations weighing them down, much less adding the stress of trying to live up to versions of themselves that don't exist in this time and place to the mix. But as the crew of Enterprise grows more confident in themselves and their abilities, and as Jim and Spock grow first closer, then became friends, and then, incredibly, lovers, Jim keeps reflecting on those things that he'd glimpsed from another time and place. Specifically, on the fact that being Spock's bondmate hasn't gone exactly how he thought it would... for a variety of reasons.
5. Vulcans are not simply more perfect versions of humans. (Now help me off this goddamn pedestal)
This fact should have been self-evident, but for some stupid reason, it wasn't. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Kirk spends the first 6 months of his command fantasizing about Spock instead of actually working up the nerve to make a romantic overture to him. Transitioning from "hating each other's guts" to "friends" to something more takes a lot of work, on both their parts, but it isn't until after they start spending the bulk of their free time together that Jim actually bridges the gap between the theoretical knowledge that Spock is a humanoid alien and truly understanding it.
Spock smells weird, first of all. Before Spock, Jim would typically spend maybe one night with a sex partner, two if he was really lucky, so being able to identify a partner's smell was a non-issue, but once he starts spending more nights in bed with Spock than not, Jim also starts to be able to recognize what Spock smells like... which is somewhere between a musky herbal scent, like tea-leaves, and something else altogether more exotic. Jim likes it. He also likes the discovery that Vulcans do all the same things humans do: urinate, defecate, and best of all, pass gas. The discovery that Spock shaves in the morning (albeit with a lot less frequency than Jim has to) is another source of rapture for Jim, a behavior that Spock doesn't really appreciate. After all, as his long-suffering Vulcan lover points out, Jim's gleeful delight in bodily functions speaks more to Jim's juvenile sense of humor than any actual xenobiological weirdness on Spock's part.
Jim doesn't care. In fact, after the initial novelty, he takes great comfort in the loss of his illusion that Vulcans are perfect, rigidly controlled beings who are careful to moderate themselves right down to their most basic bodily functions. He loves teasing Spock about Spock's unending prissiness; it's a little like dating a member of English royalty from Earth's 19th century. And it takes Spock awhile to understand that, but after the umpteenth time Jim barges into their shared bathroom when Spock is shaving or showering or doing what Chapel would delicately refer to as "number two," Jim scratching his ass and providing color commentary on how the shape and color of Spock's poo can say as much about Spock's state of mind as it does his diet, Spock finally stops bothering with trying to break Jim of the habit.
Jim takes much less pleasure in the discovery that when Spock's feeling even slightly off, all of his associated smells become absolutely terrible. Jim supposes it's only fair; after all, he's sure humans don't smell so hot, particularly not Jim, who has a fondness for garlic, onions, and meat so rare that it might well charge him in a fit of rage from his own plate. Poor Spock (who as a Vulcan has a much more sensitive nose than Jim) no doubt doesn't like it, either, and Jim can't tell which Spock hates worse, having to suffer the indignity of being ill or having Jim witness it. But if ditching Jim on Delta Vega to fight off razor-toothed carnivorous beasties didn't put Jim off dating Spock, a little Vulcan stank isn't gonna do it, either. Less pleasant is the fact that Spock turns into what can only be described as a "pissy bitch" when he feels sick, but hey, Jim figures he can put up with a little grumpiness.
The way Vulcans' eyes cloud with mucus whenever they're ill, though... that's just gross.
4. Vulcans don't like to cuddle. (Redefining your dignity)
In fact, if you didn't know better, you'd think it's because they find it beneath them. At first, Spock puts up with it only because Jim inevitably gets clingy after sex, and it helps that Jim's post-coital bedroom eyes are among the best the universe has ever known. Still, nothing quite kills the romance of curling up with your boyfriend in bed like knowing that he'd much rather get up and read through the reports on his PADD, or go examine some plants down in the lab, or any number of other things except lie in bed and cuddle. It takes Jim a long while to realize that this is not so much because of some desert-bred aversion to cuddling, like Spock lets him believe, as because Spock finds it overwhelming to have so much skin-to-skin contact when Jim's radiating his bliss and affection like a space heater. And that in turn is hard to swallow, until Jim further considers that trying to keep your emotions in hand is hard when your partner is constantly overloading you with his own. And Jim, once having had a first-hand experience with what Spock is like when he really loses control of himself, does not require any further displays.
The flipside of this is that the only time Vulcans do cuddle is while they're asleep; it's like their culture-bound need to repress the shit out of themselves evaporates when their brains turn off, and the ancient reflex to claim their mates comes out. That is, Jim usually wakes up to find Spock wrapped around him like the universe's biggest hot-water bottle, and that's all well and good if Jim can just go back to sleep, but if he has to get up to say, take a piss, forget it. Waking Spock up in order to pry him off Jim is a goddamn ordeal because Vulcans don't require as much sleep as humans, sure, but when they do sleep, they sleep hard. Or at least, Spock does. And boy is he a crabby asshole when Jim wakes him up in the middle of the night.
And sure, if Jim were living in fucking Siberia in the middle of winter, having a Vulcan space-heater would rule, but in reality, waking up every single night sweating his balls off gets old. He ruins more sheets than he has any right to, considering he doesn't even have a fucking period to deal with like he would if he or Spock were a woman, and even when they're not in bed there's the room temperature to deal with. It was one thing when they each had their own cabins, but past a certain point, they're in the same place so much of the time that personal comfort becomes a real issue. They eventually manage to find a compromise between "bitchy Vulcan" (Jim's preferred room temperature) and "fucking sauna" (Spock's preferred room temperature). This in turn results in Jim wearing a lot of sleeveless shirts and/or going shirtless, while Spock wears long-sleeves and even turtlenecks, in their off-time. Jim has no real problem with this, seeing as Spock in a black turtleneck is one of the sexiest things he's ever fucking seen, but it's still not something he ever would have thought of before he and Spock actually became a couple. He was busy contemplating things like ....sex. And definitely not things like what Spock's father would think of the idea of his son dating Jim Kirk. Which... he should really have seen coming, he thinks.
3. Sarek is the father-in-law from hell. (What do you mean, I have to meet your dad?)
For much of his life, Jim had never even anticipated having a permanent lover, much less getting married, and so the idea of in-laws never held much water with him. He was just going to die doing something stupid sooner or later, he always supposed, or at best, he and Bones would be a couple of inveterate bachelors grouching at each other on a porch somewhere in Georgia while drinking out of their hip-flasks. This was before he met Spock, of course, and once Spock has impressed upon Jim how very much Spock dislikes the way Jim seems to disregard his own safety, Jim has had to adjust his mental estimation of his own lifespan accordingly. But it isn't until he and Spock start talking seriously about how getting married is really the only way they can guarantee being able to stay together in future deployments that Jim realizes he'll have to reckon with Sarek.
And it isn't that Sarek is such a terrible person, exactly; it's just that he disapproves so thoroughly of Spock taking up with a human such as James Kirk. Jim expected it while he and Spock were just boyfriends—Vulcans are so goddamn traditional, after all, like intergalactic Puritans, only without the witch-burning (Jim hopes). But even after Spock and Jim pledge to bond in the Vulcan way, and Jim has officially given up all hope of Bones not teasing him until the goddamn end of time, Sarek still acts like Jim is only a few degrees better than a slimy cnidarian he might've once scraped off the bottom of his heel during a stroll along San Francisco's wharf. Jim feels all of these supposed failures keenly, from his utter inability to pronounce Spock's family name (which, in his defense, contains exactly 1 vowel against 18 consonants, most of which sound like you need to have swallowed a cement-mixer in order to say correctly) to his flat refusal to stifle his emotions or dress like a Vulcan. Not because Sarek's approval of him means so much to Jim personally, but because Spock cares, and Jim hates to think that he's causing more of a rift between Spock and his father than might already exist.
The wedding is even better, by which Jim definitely means worse. They have it in San Francisco, because Jim never stopped hating Iowa and Sarek was on Earth as Ambassador again temporarily anyway, and Winona and Sam both come, and it's nine kinds of awkward because everyone is giving everyone the hairy eyeball across the room—even Sarek, whose "hostile" face looks identical to his "serenity" face except for the fact that every single face he's ever made since he was a tiny glare-y baby is somehow pissed off. At Jim, just for existing, apparently. Jim didn't even want to have a wedding, but Spock had made it clear that it would be necessary, as he is the Ambassador's son. Winona gets drunk at the reception and gets all up in Sarek's face, demanding why he doesn't think her son is good enough for Spock, which almost makes Jim die of shame on the spot, but thankfully Bones saves it by dragging Winona off before an interplanetary crisis can happen, jesus fuck. This is all made triply better by the fact that Jim and Spock are due to hide out at Sarek's new home on the Vulcan colony two weeks after the wedding in order to finally bond good and proper, and Jim can only imagine how that's going to go.
The hell of it all is, of course, that Sarek married a human, so obviously either he's the biggest hypocrite the galaxy has ever known, or he just hates Jim personally and it has nothing to do with Jim being a human. Neither possibility is particularly appealing to Jim. And it isn't until that night, after the wedding and the reception are over and everyone has fucked off to God-knows-where to get good and wasted, that Jim finally gets a clue. Spock pulls him close, both of them still basking in the afterglow of post-wedding-trauma sex-therapy, tucking Jim's head against Spock's neck, and when Jim's thoughts stray again to why Sarek seems to want Jim to drop down dead, Spock actually responds.
"He does not wish for me to suffer the pain of losing a bond-mate so early in life, as he did," Spock says, so quietly Jim almost can't make him out. Jim starts, but Spock's fingers tighten on his arms, holding him close. "Even if my mother had not—had survived the destruction of Vulcan, she would have died long before my father will."
"Spock..." Jim can barely process this. He knew Amanda's death had hit Spock and Sarek hard, especially in the immediate wake of losing their freaking planet, but this particular train of thought had somehow never really occurred to him. Sometimes he forgets that Vulcans do actually live so much longer than humans do, despite the fact that Ambassador Spock clearly outlived Jim's own counterpart. Spock seems to sense Jim's distress at this knowledge, because Spock strokes his hand along his new husband's temple, a gesture as possessive as it is comforting.
"It is a price I am more than willing to pay," Spock states simply. "You have no equal and I will not live without you. It is my father who has yet to accept this." Jim swallows, and can think of nothing to say. Because they both already said "till death do us part."
2. Sex. (I expected this to hurt less)
James Kirk had always considered himself something of a tomcat in the sack. He's a good lover, dammit; sure, he loves to chase some tail, but he always takes great care to make sure his partner's needs are well-met, that his bedmate enjoys the sex as much as Jim does. And he's a try-anything-once kind of guy, to a point that it sometimes backfires on him: just because a human and an Ornithoid can flirt, for example, doesn't necessarily mean that they are meant to be able to fuck. Thank Christ he was drunk that night, or he might've been scarred for life. As it is, Bones had a thing or five to say to him about the limits of mankind's desire to know all that space has to offer. (Jim thinks this is a bit much; after all, he hasn't yet contracted a VD that Bones hasn't been able to cure, and it isn't his fault that universal condoms don't exist yet.)
So naturally Jim thinks his first time with Spock, if and when it happens (and he devoutly hopes it's a when), will be a good experience. Jim wants nothing more than to help that stoic, broody Vulcan to let himself be emotionally compromised all over Jim, to really let loose and enjoy himself. And the thought is as good as the deed, right? Especially for someone as good in bed as Jim. Sure. Except when it isn't. And Jim has had some spectacular failures in his life, but the first night he and Spock wind up in bed together shoots right to the top of that list.
Maybe they're both too worked up, or maybe Jim shouldn't have been so drunk, or maybe Spock should have waited until he isn't in a possessive rage over the fact that the Orion trader intended to first take shameful advantage of Kirk's inebriation before hauling him off to be sold at a slave market at the ass-end of the galaxy, but, well. Speculation. What actually happens is that Jim is too drunk and eager to realize he has no fucking clue what a Vulcan's turn-ons are, Spock is (for once) too upset to allow for his own strength, they forget the lube altogether, Starfleet's beds aren't really made to bear up under that much aggression, and Jim ends up spending the night in sickbay with a broken arm and some serious friction burns instead of pillowed on Spock's chest like he hoped.
Even that would've been acceptable, or at least something to laugh about later, if the next time turned out better. Never mind the fact that Spock is so appalled at hurting Jim like he did that it takes literally three weeks of coaxing and flirting (flirting that comes goddamn close to assault, save for the fact that that idea is a joke—because, really, Spock is 3 times stronger than Jim, and Jim would have better luck bullying a rock wall into giving him its lunch money) to persuade Spock to try again with him. The second night is as humiliating as the first was disastrous: Jim comes all over them both before they've even really gotten started, and then try as they both might, Jim can't get Spock off at all. It's a sign of how smitten they are with each other even then that Spock manages to persuade Jim to stay the night with him anyway despite their inability to have successful sex.
They do get better, eventually, but it's a mortifying learning experience for Jim, to start from ground zero when it comes to learning how to please his partner. His determination pays off in the end, though (but not without a few humiliating incidents of Jim coming before he can even get his pants off—though he suspects Spock does a couple of those on purpose, melding with Jim and sending jolts of sensation straight to the pleasure-center of Jim's brain). And the learning curve between "complete and utter failure" and "mind-blowing world-shattering orgasms" is pretty fast compared to certain other areas of their relationship.
Like the telepathy.
1. Telepathy. (Or: the perils of dating a major psychic psycho)
It's true that Jim's very first experience at a Vulcan mind-meld wasn't what he might've wished for, but still, the impression Ambassador Spock gave him was a very positive one, with warm, protective feelings buoying him even through the grief and trauma of watching the destruction of Vulcan. It's this glimpse of what could be that first started Jim day-dreaming about what it would be like to have Spock as his lover. And not being a telepath himself, he never gives too much thought to what that aspect of a relationship with Spock would be like, but the vague, idle musings he does have are all very simple. He'd be able to hear Spock inside his head, like having a personal pair of Spock ear-phones, piping Spock's words directly into his mind like in old Earth movie voice-overs. And they'd be able to communicate on the bridge without having to speak, which in Jim's personal opinion is awesome; what could be better than whispering dirty nothings into Spock's head when they're supposed to be working? It's sure to get his stoic First Officer's Federation-issue knickers in a knot like no other.
Really, he should have known better.
Human brains aren't meant for telepathy. Primates evolved in a very specific environment, and the human mind evolved in turn as an adaptation to those circumstances, and sexy, telepathic, inhumanly strong humanoids were definitely not part of them. The first few times Spock melds with Jim, regardless of whether or not sex is on the table (and for Jim it inevitably always is), Jim's brain is scrambled for a good hour afterwards, walking into walls, smelling things that aren't there, and speaking in strange, garbled sentences. It's as though his synapses and mental modules are just too confused by the barrage of information that's just been dumped directly into his brain, bypassing all his sensory input. Jim can't differentiate between the images Spock is showing him and what's really there, can't divorce Spock's thoughts from his own, and he comes out of it like a paranoid asshole waking from a bad dream: gasping for air, his pulse thundering in his ears, hands clenched into fists, ready to bolt for the door or sucker-punch the threat looming in front of him. He actually takes a swing at Spock once before he realized what he was doing, and all credit is due to his implacable First for pinning Jim to the bed, arms wrapped securely around him as Jim's brain slowly centers itself, fighting his way out of his confusion.
Getting past that comes after the first few times, which is good, but there's passively allowing Spock into his head without freaking out, and then there's learning to actually communicate with Spock at all during the meld. Easy, verbalized communication? Not a fucking chance. Telepathy is like learning another language, only done underwater, with no light, in three times the gravity you're used to. In other words, fucking impossible and exhausting. And Jim doesn't at first understand how being inside your own mind can be so exhausting, but inevitably because his physiology is so attuned to his mental state, it turns out that Jim is straining like a man trying to move a mountain the entire time they're melded. It's like re-learning to speak after an accident, only this time speaking involves images, colors, concepts, sensations, ideas. No words. Jim has never had so many migraines in his life. He doesn't know if it's better or worse than turning into Drunkface McGee after every meld.
He gets used to it eventually, of course; Spock is patient, so patient, taking it as painfully slow as Jim apparently needs to go in order to do this thing, to be the giving partner he wants to be for Spock. Eventually Jim and Spock can meld without reducing Jim to a recovering drug addict coming out of withdrawal, complete with the sweats and the shakes and migraine headaches, and then it becomes one of their favorite things to do together, before or after or sometimes in lieu of sex altogether. They'll lay curled together on Spock's bed with their fingers pressed identically to each other's faces (though obviously Jim has all the telepathy in his fingers of a dead frog), swimming in a dark place that's nowhere at all and yet more intimate than the closest embrace.
Jim, in classic Kirk-family fashion, thinks these experiences make him pretty damn bad-ass, for a human. He's come a long way, after all. So he's kind of miffed when Spock refuses to bond with him until after the culmination of their five-year mission. He won't even do it until two weeks after the wedding is over and done with. But when they finally go to New Vulcan, staying in a secluded wing of Sarek's house, Jim finally understands why Spock has made such a big deal out of it.
Because bonding is a bitch.
The bond itself is painless. It's very like a mind-meld, actually, albeit done in the presence of a serious-even-for-a-Vulcan official and a number of Sarek's medical aides, which Jim thinks is a bit weird, but he understands seconds later as he collapses twitching to the ground, crumpling into a little ball. Not even the most exhilarating of their melds had prepared him for the utter barrage against his very being that bonding to Spock brings. It takes a week and a half of being cloistered in one of the guest suites before Jim can function again at all, a week and a half spent alternately naked in Spock's arms and trying to claw his own skin off in the next room. Jim can't bear to be away from Spock for long, the craving for his lover's touch and sex like a fire in his skin, but he can't bear the fact that he will never have any privacy ever again, because Spock is there. Seeing his inconsistencies and idiotic impulses, seeing all his most horrifically stupid memories, his embarrassing personal habits, his less-than-charitable thoughts, his insecurities. He very nearly goes mad.
Ultimately, the 4 years spent learning how to not suck at dating a telepath pay off, because with Spock and the healers' help, Jim learns how to shield himself, how to control the invisible connection that now exists between them so that it isn't Jim's Stupid Human Tricks 24/7. But it takes nearly a month after the initial bonding before Jim is ready to leave the Vulcan colony, and even then he still spends most evenings with his head cradled in Spock's lap, letting his lover massage his aching skull.
0. Spock is the best thing that has ever happened to him. (and I'll believe in anything if you'll believe in anything)
Jim has never thought of himself as lucky, or special, or in possession of a unique destiny. Still doesn't. He's not given to romanticizing; he never knew George Kirk, and so his father's death didn't hit him the same way it did Sam and Winona, but in a lot of ways Jim always felt like he was growing up with a ghost, and nothing about being haunted is the least bit fucking romantic. Life is hard edges and rough breaks and a bunch of other James Dean-esque bullshit that Jim nevertheless totally believes in, and if you want to make something of yourself you have to do it yourself. Christopher Pike tricked him into admitting he wanted a shot at exactly that, but Jim Kirk's unflagging optimism has never been about believing that the universe naturally is a beautiful place, but about believing that it should be, that it's worth fighting to make it that way. Because anything in life that you want, you have to fight for.
And then, he meets Spock, son of Sarek. And Jim realizes that at 25 years old, he's had the rug yanked out from under him. He'd be angrier except that the simple fact is that his life can be defined into two distinct segments: before he met Spock, and after, because after Spock nothing is ever, ever the same.
Sure, there's the fact that Spock is impossibly sexy, and also astonishingly smart, and hilarious in a way you'd never expect a Vulcan to be (and maybe that's why it's so devastatingly funny when Spock does tell a joke, because he's the last fucking person you'd expect it from). And yes, he challenges and complements Jim in a way Jim never expected to find, because sexual attraction and convergence of personal goals and emotional compatibility are rare to find separately, much less all together. Jim's had a life-long issue with the idea of a "soul mate," taking serious umbrage at the idea that logically, if there's one person out there who's "meant" for you, then you aren't a whole person until you find them, and that is a big fat stinking heap of bullshit.... but it's also true that the best parts of himself are somehow better when he's with Spock, and life and all its challenges seem more exhilarating when viewed through the kind of binocular vision of togetherness that Jim never had before Spock.
But what really throws Jim, what really humbles him, is how rock-steady his lover is. Jim has never in all his life met someone able to decide, with such utter certainty, that when he does something, he's going to fucking do it. Jim knows (and it breaks him a little when he thinks about it, how unbelievable it is) that Spock will never leave him. Spock believes in him, loves him, will fight for him against any and all comers; Spock would stand before the entire universe and defend Jim Kirk until the end of time when all existence has ceased, and he would do it without hesitation or doubt. And as if that wasn't enough to reduce him to something suspiciously like a sobbing teenage girl, the truth is that Spock makes Jim feel the same way. And that makes everything that they do together, big and little, terrible and stupid, fun and obnoxious, more than worth it.
So, Jim figures, let Spock get the Vulcan measles and get mucus and snot everywhere and be the ship's biggest baby. Let him turn the temperature up till Jim has an epic case of swamp-ass, and let him tell Jim 829,347 times how illogical any given idea he suggests is. Let Sarek take until Jim's 65 to decide that there might be a few ways in which Jim Kirk is not totally worthless. Let Jim get headaches bad enough to make him want to puke from having spent too long in a meld with Spock. Jim doesn't give a fuck.
Because while the price of being with Spock is that sometimes Spock is a pain in the ass, the reward is that Jim has Spock and always will. And that's more than enough.