"It's probably for the best," said Bones, less resigned than Jim would have been in his position. "It was never a good fit for me anyway."
Jim's denial was automatic, second-nature. "Don't say that."
Bones snorted, but even though it was barely a laugh, it was enough to get him coughing. He was going to be fine, but guilt stabbed Jim's side regardless. His fault, for not being a better copilot.
"I think it's for the best," he said, once he'd recovered. "You know I never wanted to do this. I was a last resort."
Bones said it with the same caustic, uncaring tone he said most things--Jim wasn't sure how his bedside manner was with strangers, but it was abominable with friends--not at all concerned with his own unsuitability as a Jaeger pilot, but it hit Jim like a physical blow. They'd worked together well enough, but he really had been a last resort.
On paper, Jim was the best pilot in the corps. Top of his class, on top of his game mentally and physically, and he had years of experience fighting the kaiju with the Navy before the Jaeger project came together. No one denied his skills, his credentials, or his passion for protecting his planet.
But it took two to pilot a Jaeger, and Jim had always struggled to find co-pilots. No matter how well he got along with the rest of the base, how easily he could make people laugh, how comfortable everyone said they were with him, he'd never managed to find a good drift partner. Bones hadn't wanted to even try--"I'm a doctor, not a Jaeger pilot"--and Jim had only convinced him by pointing out how low the chances were that it would work with him, when it hadn't worked with anyone else.
"Jim is correct, doctor," Spock had put it, the kind of support that felt like twisting a knife. When Jim said chances were bad, it was a figure of speech; when Spock said it, he'd done the math. "The odds are--"
Jim still didn't know what Spock figured out, and he never wanted to. "Humor me," he said. "Just try."
But even Bones, one of his best and oldest friends, hadn't been a great match. Good enough to drift with, better than anyone else Jim had considered, but nothing like real drift compatibility. Just the best he could get.
Now even Bones was out of commission, and Jim was out of options.
"I'm sorry," he said, voice low. "I know you never wanted this, but you did it anyway, and now you're hurt."
That, at least, he waved off. "I'll be fine. Just need some time to recover. And you're not getting me back in one of those walking death traps. I won't give myself medical clearance."
Jim chuckled. "No, I wasn't expecting you would. I couldn't believe you got in it in the first place."
"You'll find someone else. I was never more than a placeholder." He started to cough again. "Now leave me alone. I'm old, I need my rest."
"Of course you do." He patted Bones on his good leg and left without another word, trying not to let his frustration get the better of him. All he wanted to do was hit something. His first choice would have been a kaiju, but even the wall was looking appealing.
He was supposed to be good at this.
Director Pike wanted to see him, but he wasn't ready for that yet. There was a conversation about next steps to be had, and Jim didn't want to admit he was out of ideas.
Instead, he took a left and headed to the lab.
As usual, Spock was hunched over his desk, ignoring his chair so he could peer down at something in his microscope from his full height. Even after more than a year, Jim found himself awed to be in the presence of an honest-to-god alien, a green-blooded man from outer space, here on a mission of peace.
And that, just as unbelievably, they were something like friends.
He knocked on the doorframe, startling Spock from his work. Not that the Vulcan showed surprise, of course, but Jim could see the slight jump of his shoulders before neutral dispassion took over.
"Sorry to disturb you," he said, unable to keep a small smirk off his face.
"If you were truly sorry, you would not have disturbed me. How is Dr. McCoy?"
"Oh, he'll be fine. He won't be back in a cockpit anytime soon, but knowing him, he'll be here with you in under a week."
Spock didn't grimace in a careful way that suggested he was, somewhere beneath his Vulcan calm, grimacing very, very hard. "That is good news."
"That the doctor sustained no lasting injuries."
Jim sprawled into the chair that Bones used when he was here, huffing out a long sigh. Maybe it was because Spock didn't show emotion, or maybe it was just to rile him up, but for whatever reason, being with Spock made him want to be twice as emotive. "Yes, that is the good news, isn't it."
"I believe that question is rhetorical."
"You believe correctly." He scrubbed his hand over his face. "I need a copilot."
"Since you began working with Dr. McCoy, the base has recruited eight new potential pilots," said Spock. "Given your difficulties with finding a compatible co-pilot, I would only put the odds of--"
"Please don't tell me exactly how bad you think my chances of finding someone are."
They sat in silence for a moment, Jim idly spinning in the chair while Spock did whatever it was that kept Spock occupied all day. There was something soothing about the lab, although Jim had never been able to put his finger on what it was. He'd started coming because Bones was his best friend on the base, and this was the place to find him. When he'd first walked in and found Spock, whom he only knew from rumors and news stories, he'd almost thought he was in the wrong place. He hadn't even known that Spock was at this base, let alone that he worked with Bones.
"That's because we don't work together," Bones had grumbled. "Vulcans aren't team players. They work alone."
Privately, Jim had thought it sounded like an unfair generalization. Spock was the only Vulcan anyone on Earth knew, and to extrapolate the behavior of an entire race based on a single representative was, at least in Jim's opinion, unbefitting of a doctor.
Once he'd actually started talking to Spock, he had to admit that he generalized about Vulcans as much as anyone. Vulcans followed this philosophy, Vulcans didn't do this, Vulcans did that. By his own account, there was such a thing as a typical Vulcan, and Spock was a prime specimen. But, as it turned out, Jim didn't do so badly with Vulcans. Not if Spock really was representative. Once Jim had gotten used to being around him, he found he rather liked it.
The Vulcan in question cleared his throat, pulling Jim from his thoughts. "I do not believe," he said, with typical deliberation, "that your difficulty with drifting is a weakness."
He shifted a little, and Jim felt some strange emotion rise in his chest. If Spock was to be believed, Vulcans didn't get nervous, but Jim knew nerves when he saw them.
"As you know, the drift is a Vulcan innovation."
Before Spock's ship had showed up, Earth had been on its last legs. The kaiju were expected to break through humanity's last defenses in a matter of months, if not weeks, and Jim had been ready to give his life to buy everyone else just a little more time. The Vulcans had arrived like some sort of miracle, an extraterrestrial defense against an extraterrestrial threat. When they'd only left a single person to help the war effort, it had felt like a slap in the face, but Spock's job was triage. It would take at least a year for the Vulcans to return to their home world and another for them to bring backup, but in the meantime, Spock was sure he could hold back the kaiju.
To Jim's surprise, he'd been right. The Jaeger program, stalled out in development for years, had come roaring back once Spock suggested multiple pilots, linked in the drift.
"Not a Vulcan innovation. Your innovation."
"It is a Vulcan concept, based on Vulcan bonds."
That was news to Jim. If Spock had told anyone about that, it had never made it into any of the official reports Jim had read. "Vulcan bonds?"
"Vulcans are telepaths. Touch-based," he added, when Jim went pale. "I am not reading your thoughts, Jim."
"But when you touch someone, it's like drifting?"
"Analogous, but not exactly the same. The drift is a deeper bond, something that would take time and effort to accomplish on Vulcan. It is not something we have weaponized, and I doubt the rest of my people will look kindly on what I have done here. But it was a necessity."
"So I shouldn't feel bad about being bad at drifting because I'm not a Vulcan?" he asked, dubious.
"On the contrary. You have not found a strong bond, but you have been compatible with everyone you've worked with, to a degree. The fact that your co-pilots have stronger bonds with others does not negate this strength."
"Which strength is that, exactly?"
"Your ability to bond, on some level, with almost anyone. This versatility would have been a tremendous advantage on Vulcan."
"Why thank you, Mr. Spock. Here, it's a pain in my ass."
Spock opened his mouth and then closed it. "You are speaking metaphorically."
"Not a literal pain in my literal ass, yes."
Jim spun the chair again, slowly, turning Spock's words over in his mind. "You've never tried."
"The drift compatibility tests. You've never tried to pilot a Jaeger at all."
"I am not a soldier."
"Neither was Bones."
"I am not a human."
"You just said the drift was a Vulcan innovation. Shouldn't you be better at it than us?"
Spock looked away. "I would not consider myself particularly skilled in this regard."
"But you haven't tried it."
"I have not, and I have no plans to. The odds that you will be exceptionally compatible with any of the recent recruits is low. However, the odds that you will be more compatible with one of them than they are with anyone else are--" Jim raised his eyebrows, and Spock faltered. "Much higher. You should not worry."
"What are the odds I'm compatible with you?"
"On some level, we are doubtless compatible. As I said, your versatility is commendable and I have no doubt it would extend to me. However, the odds of any two individuals having a high drift compatibility is low."
"But we're not talking about any two individuals. We're talking about me and you. That's a specific calculation."
Spock wasn't looking at him. "There is no reason to believe I have any compatibility with humans."
It was the first argument Spock had made that swayed Jim, even if only slightly. Gary hadn't been compatible with drifting, and it had nearly killed him. Jim would never risk doing the same to Spock. But still, despite it all, some wild hope was clawing against his throat. According to Spock, Vulcans didn't lie, and Spock was going out of his way to avoid saying that he couldn't, or that he thought they wouldn't work well together. Either he didn't want to hurt Jim's feelings--doubtful--or he thought the two of them might actually be a good match, and he just didn't want to admit it.
Now that sounded like Spock.
"Do you think it would be dangerous?" he asked. "If you drifted with me."
A long pause. "No."
"Is there a reason not to find out?"
"As I said, there are eight new recruits who have already been trained as pilots. I have no such training. The most logical course of action is for you to work with one of them."
"What if none of them are a very good fit? Wouldn't it be logical to field the best team we could?"
Spock actually looked physically pained. "That would be logical, yes. But we have no evidence that you and I would be the best team."
"And how would we gather evidence of that, Mr. Spock?"
"Unless I'm mistaken, the first step would be to speak with Director Pike. If he believes that the two of us should test our drift compatibility, I will of course defer to his expertise. However," he added, before Jim could get too excited, "remember that if I am a pilot, I cannot be a scientist. Regardless of our compatibility, I believe I am of most use here."
Six months ago--even three--Jim would have said the same thing. But they had come a long way since Spock resurrected the Jaeger program. What they needed now wasn't scientific innovation; they had innovated. Now, they needed pilots to keep the kaiju under control until the Vulcan reinforcements arrived. If he and Jim were drift compatible, as Jim suspected they were, they belonged in a Jaeger.
"And if Director Pike disagrees?"
"That would be between myself and Director Pike."
"Do you not want me to ask him?" Jim asked finally, his conscience refusing to let him go. "If you're really unwilling, I'll back off. Just say the word."
"All evidence to the contrary," said Spock, but his voice was rich with amusement. Jim didn't bother responding, and at last, Spock sighed. "I am not particularly interested in piloting a Jaeger, but I cannot fault your logic. You are an exceptional pilot, and you would be most effective with a compatible co-pilot. If there is not a suitable candidate among the new recruits, it is worth testing if I could be such a candidate."
"You could just say you don't mind, Spock."
"I do not mind," Spock parroted, obedient. "If nothing else," he added, with one of those rare, welcome bursts of humor, "it would prevent me from having to share my office with Dr. McCoy when he recovers."
Jim laughed. "That's the spirit."
Like most of the Jaeger Corps, Christopher Pike was former military. Jim didn't know much about his life before the kaiju arrived, but it didn't really matter. His horror story was probably the same as everyone's; all that changed was the names of people and places lost. But Pike had turned his pain into something powerful. He'd been the one who first proposed Jaegers, the one who, before Spock's arrival, had been working tirelessly to make them function, convinced that this was Earth's last hope.
Sometimes, Jim still couldn't believe he'd been right.
"So, that lasted longer than I thought it would," Pike said, by way of greeting.
"I thought McCoy was going to figure out a way to get out of piloting in the first week. Took him almost three months."
"I don't think he broke his leg and half his ribs on purpose. Sir," he added, as an afterthought.
"No, but he didn't seem too upset about it."
"You know he loves an excuse to complain."
"That he does." Pike steepled his fingers. "So, what's next, Captain?"
"Spock pointed out we have new recruits. I might drift well with one of them."
"You don't sound very optimistic."
"I've met most of the recruits. They're good kids, don't get me wrong. But I don't know that any of them will be a good fit."
"Do you have a better idea?"
Pike's eyebrows went up. "What about Spock?"
"We've never tested my compatibility with him."
"That's because he's not a pilot."
"Neither was Bones. Dr. McCoy," he corrected. "Desperate times call for desperate measures."
"Have you consulted with Mr. Spock on this?"
"He said he would defer to your judgement."
Pike snorted. "All right, Jim, I'll bite. Why Spock?"
"Most of our most successful teams have some sort of pre-existing relationship. Hell, the only reason Bones and I did as well as we did was that we've been friends for years. I have nothing against the new recruits, but I don't know any of them. Building up trust takes time, time that we don't have. We know I'm not compatible enough with any of our other pilots. Unless we get lucky with a new recruit, you're most likely benching me until someone else gets hurt and needs a new partner. It seems--" He smirked. "Illogical to do that without trying all our options first."
Pike snorted. "Well, I can't argue with that. I assume Spock couldn't either."
"He saw my point, yes. He thinks it's more important to keep him in the lab, but I'm not so sure. Not to discount the work Spock has done for us," he added quickly, before Pike could say it. "But it's a waiting game now. We don't have the technology to take care of the kaiju ourselves, we just need to survive until the Vulcans come back. The Jaegers are how we do it."
"If Spock agrees, I don't see any reason not to try it. I don't know if he's much of a fighter, but the two of you certainly get along. I'll add him to the lineup for compatibility tests. But you get to tell him."
He couldn't keep a grin off his face. "It would be my pleasure, sir."
"So, Dr. McCoy is done," said Sulu, voice rich with amusement. "Lucky for me I wasn't your co-pilot for longer, I might have been in real trouble."
Sulu hadn't been around for the accident with Gary; he meant to be making a joke. Jim managed a smile and the appearance of taking it that way. "Done is a bit of an exaggeration, Sulu. He'll be back in the lab driving Spock crazy in no time."
"Dr. McCoy is not driving me anywhere," Spock put in. "I look forward to working with him again."
Uhura smiled. "It's okay, Spock. You're among friends. You don't have to lie."
"Vulcans do not lie," said Spock and Jim at the same time. Spock shot him a look, one eyebrow raised, and Jim grinned back at him.
"I'm actually trying to get Spock out of the lab," he admitted. "After all, Bones turned out to be a good pilot, who's to say Spock won't be?"
"You're going to put Spock in a Jaeger?" Sulu asked. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
Spock shrugged. "At this time, Director Pike has only agreed that it is worth verifying if Captain Kirk and I might be drift compatible. It may still prove to be a bad idea."
Jim shook his head. "Have a little faith, both of you. Mr. Spock is the only one here who has experience on a starship. That has to count for something."
"I was a science officer, not a pilot."
"Still. You designed the system, you should know it better than anyone."
"I do," he said, without a trace of modesty. Vulcans--at least this Vulcan--didn't seem to believe in downplaying their own strengths. "Whether my technical knowledge will translate to practical knowledge has yet to be determined." He poked at his vegetables. "Vulcans are pacifists by nature. While I recognize the necessity of fighting the kaiju, it is not a comfortable solution for me."
"I don't think it's a comfortable solution for any of us," said Uhura, her mild tone masking steel. "None of us wanted to be here."
Spock looked properly chastened, and Jim smiled into his drink. Spock didn't always eat in the mess, but he'd said that if there was a chance he'd become a pilot, he should become more familiar with his comrades. Privately, Jim wasn't sure this was necessary, but he liked anything that got Spock out of the lab and into more social situations. He was something of an ambassador, after all, the first Vulcan to live on Earth. He should be learning more about humanity for as long as he was here.
The thought of Spock leaving someday always did odd things to Jim's stomach, so he pulled his mind away from the thought, back to the conversation at hand. Uhura was telling Spock what he could expect in the drift compatibility tests, and even though Spock had designed said tests himself and witnessed them dozens of times, he was listening with rapt attention, as if he'd never been more invested.
Spock might not want to be Jim's co-pilot, but he had clearly been a straight-A student--or whatever the Vulcan equivalent was--and a teacher's pet. There was no way he was going to fail a test.
"I think you'd be good at it," Uhura concluded. "Pacifist or not."
Spock raised his eyebrow at her. "May I ask why?"
"Because you and Captain Kirk complement each other. You won't let him walk all over you. That's his problem, he's too used to being in charge."
Jim had to cut in at that. "Excuse me?"
"Oh, I don't think it's a bad thing."
"Of course not. What about that could be a bad thing?" Jim asked, sarcasm leaking out of every pore.
"Captain is your rank from the Navy, isn't it? You still use it, even though the corps doesn't have ranks. You were in charge of a crew. It shows. But Mr. Spock doesn't care about that."
"On the contrary, I think very highly of the captain's experience and expertise. And I am more than capable of following orders." He paused. "Provided they are logical and correct, of course."
Uhura laughed and made an abortive move to pat Spock on the shoulder, but chickened out at the last moment. Jim was the only one who seemed particularly comfortable touching him, and even though Spock never seemed to mind, no one else had followed his lead.
Another thing that might be resolved, if the other pilots thought of Spock as one of them. Not, as Bones had repeatedly pointed out, that Spock's social life was either Jim's responsibility or his business, but no one else was doing anything about it. Jim might as well.
Still, despite his best efforts, Spock lingered for only a few minutes after he'd finished the meal, claiming he needed to meditate before the compatibility tests in the morning.
"Want to make sure you'll do your best?" Jim teased. "Spock, I'm touched. I thought you might bomb it on purpose."
"Fail. To avoid having to be my co-pilot."
"If I wanted to avoid being your co-pilot, I simply would not take the test. It will be difficult to take the tests without bias, but I see no reason to, as you say, bomb."
Jim cocked his head. "Bias? The tests are--" he started, but swallowed the end of the sentence. The tests were notoriously inscrutable, aside from the combat section, but Spock was the one who'd designed them. He knew how scoring worked.
He was probably the only one in the corps who could bomb on purpose.
"I see you understand. Now, if you'll excuse me--"
"Hey, wait," said Jim, following Spock out of the mess hall. "I don't think you're biased, I'm just curious. You can't rig the test, anyway. You'd have to know my answers."
"I do know your answers. That is why you will have to take new tests tomorrow with me."
"How do you know my answers?"
"Vulcans have eidetic memories. I know every answer every pilot in the corps has given to every test question. Therefore, I also know which answers to give to make myself more or less compatible with any of you."
"Couldn't you also use your knowledge of my previous answers to guess what my answers would be this time?"
"I could attempt to," said Spock, with a tone that suggested to Jim that he'd already considered this.
"But you won't?"
"Ideally, there would be someone else here qualified to administer the test for me, to avoid any temptation on my part. As there is not, I will try not to let our personal relationship or my knowledge of you influence my responses."
"Shouldn't you?" He raised his eyebrow, and Jim soldiered on. "That's why I think you'd make a good co-pilot, Spock. Because we're friends. You understand how I think. Why would you give up that advantage? You earned it."
It was rare to see Spock show surprise, and Jim always felt a surge of pride when he was the cause. Spock might have known him well, but he was also one of the few humans who could catch the Vulcan off guard.
"I am--" He cleared his throat. "I am the only one here who is capable of leveraging this particular advantage. You do not have the necessary background to know what constitutes a complementary answer. Therefore, it is not a true test of our compatibility. It is unfair."
Jim had to admit he had a point there. The multiple-choice section of the compatibility test was a complete mystery, a series of scenarios with no connection to Jaegers, kaiju, or drifting that Jim could find. It was all strange hypotheticals with no clear right or wrong answers. Spock had walked him through a few of them when he asked, explaining how the questions and answers revealed the strength of potential bonds, which indicated that two people would work well together, but even with that background, he wouldn't have known how to game the system. Figuring out Spock's answer to any given question might not be so hard, but figuring out which answer would best suit it was another story.
"I suppose you're right."
"I will endeavor to take the test without thinking of the outcome."
"And if you succeed in not influencing the outcome, what do you think it will be?" At Spock's dubious look, Jim grinned. "You said it yourself, you know what I'm likely to say, you know which answers you would need to give to match me. Are those the answers you would give? Without any outside influence."
"You want to know if I think we are drift compatible."
"Of course I do. That's the whole point of this, isn't it? And you still haven't given me a straight answer."
"I believe we will be compatible. However, I also would prefer that we were, and I recognize that this may skew our results. Knowing this, I plan to weigh our combat test more heavily than the multiple-choice and visual tests, as I am unable to use my own knowledge to give myself an advantage in combat."
Spock had a brisk, matter-of-fact tone he used when he wanted to move on from a conversation quickly. The impression he gave was that there was no room for discussion, and Jim had quickly learned it was a good reason to think hard about what he'd said and find the part he didn't want to talk about.
Not that it took much work to find it here.
"You want us to be compatible?"
Spock paused by the door to crew quarters, lingering as if this conversation had to be limited to the main hallway. "Despite my best efforts to reassure you, you are still troubled by your lack of high drift compatibility. And you are the best pilot in the corps. It would be to everyone's advantage if you had a co-pilot with whom you had a strong bond. I believe I am the best candidate."
Jim swallowed hard, pushing down his own swirl of emotions. "Well," he said finally. "I think so too. I'll see you tomorrow, Mr. Spock."
Spock nodded. "Goodnight, Captain."
The first time Jim had taken the compatibility test, the multiple-choice section had taken him hours. Each scenario had ten responses, and none of them had been quite right. Jim had agonized over which one was the best fit, convinced he'd decide on the wrong one and never find a partner.
He hadn't blamed those choices for his lack of strong compatibility with anyone, but it had still weighed on him. He'd told Spock as much, and the next time he took the test, each question had an answer that felt right, as if by magic.
For an intelligent guy, he could be slow sometimes.
This would be the fifth time he'd taken the test, and as was now usual, Jim found that every question had a response that was exactly what he would do in the given situation. For the first time, he wondered if that was part of his problem, that he had a perfect response and no one else did. Of course no one could match him, if they didn't have the right choices.
But this was his first time taking the test with Spock, too. Spock, who finished first, in mere minutes, because of course he already knew every question. Spock, who must have his own answers already chosen, who had given himself right answers just like he gave them to Jim, who then got to decide if those answers made them a match.
Bias was unavoidable, but Jim understood what he was trying to do. He wanted to give Jim what he wanted, a compatible partner, but he wanted to do it the honest way. Without making Jim feel like they'd cheated for it.
As far as Jim was concerned, if Spock knew him well enough to predict what he'd do in a given situation, they were probably drift compatible. And he was pretty sure he knew which responses were Spock's too, much to his delight. He made a game of it, trying to find Spock's answer after he'd found his own, and once he was done, he went to find Spock in the lab.
"I thought we could compare notes."
"Notes on what?
"You know what I answered, and I think I know what you answered. I want to find out if I'm right."
Spock raised one eyebrow. "You know my answers?"
"I have some educated guesses." He grabbed Bones' still-vacant chair and pulled it up next to Spock's. "You have answers tailor-made for me on these tests. It's only logical to think you gave yourself your ideal answers too."
Spock shifted in his chair, minute discomfort creeping up his back. "I listened to your feedback. It is challenging to design this kind of test for another species, whose responses to stimuli are so often illogical to me. Therefore, I tried to keep you and others I knew in mind when designing the test, instead of relying on my own instincts."
"And when you were designing a test you would take, I assume you didn't want to only choose from answers humans would give."
Spock considered him for a long moment, and then turned his attention back to the computer, pulling up several different files. Jim recognized one as the test he'd just completed, another as what he assumed was Spock's, and the third as the master file.
"There were several answers I might pick for each question, depending on mood and other outside factors. The test is not as black and white as you think it is. Likewise, I have added answers that I think will appeal to you, but you do not always select the answer I anticipate you will."
That was a surprise. "Really? They seemed so obvious."
"I often come up with three or four reactions I think you might have to the situations. One seems most likely to me, but you are more than capable of surprising me, Jim. Even your illogic does not follow a logical pattern."
"I'm flattered, Spock."
"I am able to predict your responses with sixty-five-point-four-percent accuracy. I suspect your accuracy on my answers will be at least seventy-five-percent, if not higher."
"That is what I thought you'd say for the first one," he said, pointing at the screen displaying Spock's response.
"It is the most logical solution to the problem."
"From a certain perspective. This was my answer," he added. "Are they compatible?"
"They are, yes."
"I would have thought logic was compatible with logic. Doesn't my chaotic mind bother you?"
"There is very little advantage to drifting with someone whose mind is exactly like yours. One of the strengths of having multiple pilots for Jaegers is that the pilots bring their own perspectives."
"So, opposites really do attract?" Spock cocked his head, curious, and Jim waved his hand. "It's an old saying. That's pretty much it, I suppose. No second clause."
"I do not think the best teams are opposites. They are--"
"Complementary. How are we doing?"
Spock had been tabulating the results as they went, Jim watching absently without much comprehension of what the results meant.
"So far, we are exceptionally well matched."
Jim smiled. "I'm glad to hear it."
The visual section was basically a series of Rorschach tests, administered and recorded by the computer, which automatically grouped the results based on keywords. Jim never had any idea how he'd done on it, but at least that meant he wasn't second-guessing himself. He and Spock wouldn't see the same things in the blurred images, but they didn't need to. They just needed to see complementary things.
Besides, he'd stayed for the entire evaluation of their multiple-choice responses, watched Spock click through to green lights on each question, until the final score popped up: 98.4% compatibility, blowing his and Bones' 74.7% out of the water. He'd have to do really badly at this one to drag down their average.
Once they were done with the visual test, there was a break for lunch, and then he and the other candidates gathered for the final test: combat.
Jim wasn't sure what to expect here either. Spock was, by his own account, a pacifist, and Jim had never seen him fight, even practice sparring. But he couldn't quite shake the feeling that there was more to Spock than met the eye, a feeling that only intensified when he spotted the Vulcan already waiting in the gym. He was dressed in the standard-issue workout uniform, black pants and a white tank top, and for the first time Jim realized how much lean muscle he hid under his layers of clothing.
It was a lot to take in.
"Nervous?" he asked, pasting on a smile. His attraction to Spock wasn't new; he could power through it like he always did.
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Why would I be nervous?"
"This was Dr. McCoy's worst section. I thought it might be yours too."
To say Bones had done badly in the combat test would be wildly underselling it. Kirk was used to fighting against less experienced opponents, but they usually at least understood the rules of engagement. Bones had just rushed him, howling like a banshee, and they'd ended up rolling around on the floor with Bones biting his arm like an extra in a zombie movie.
"Technically, the first hit goes to the doctor," Spock had said, voice dry as sand as he towered over them. And that was only the first round.
In the end, Spock had awarded them medium compatibility on the test, largely because Bones hadn't done any better with anyone else, so it wasn't as if it could be said his results had anything to do with Jim personally. It was hard to imagine Spock could be anywhere near that bad.
"I have been trained in Vulcan martial arts since childhood," Spock said, to Jim's surprise. "I believe we will be fairly evenly matched."
"Is that standard practice for Vulcans?"
"It is a part of our mental and physical discipline, yes. Martial arts can be a powerful tool to control the mind as well as the body."
"And emotions too, I'm sure." Spock raised his eyebrow. "You have to learn how not to get mad when you get hit."
If Spock had a response, he didn't get the chance to give it. Director Pike swept in, and a cacophony of murmurs followed him. Combat tests always got a big audience, everyone excited to see how their friends did, who seemed like a good team, who got their asses kicked. Jim would have loved to watch, get in on the side betting, but there had never been a combat test on the base he hadn't had to participate in.
"All right, quiet down!" yelled Pike. "You all know the rules. Today, we have ten hopefuls. That means nine rounds of fights, five fights per round. Rules are the same as always: first to four hits wins. For those of you interested in speculating on who might win these rounds, you should talk to Mr. Chekov, as I disavow all knowledge of such speculation."
Chekov waved from his position next to the board and the crowd descended upon him, eager to see what the rounds were and who might come out ahead. Even though participants couldn't bet, Jim was as excited as any of them, forcing his way through the throng to find out when he and Spock would be fighting.
As soon as he saw it, he turned his glare on Chekov. "Last round?"
Chekov shrugged. "You don't put the main event first."
Somehow, Jim hadn't really thought about it like that. Spock would be the big draw every round--no one had ever seen a Vulcan fight before--but the rest of the candidates were new and untested, while Jim was one of the best known pilots on the base. His friendship with Spock was no secret either. Everyone else would be as excited for the fight as he was.
"And what if Spock can't fight and the outcome is a done deal by the time we get to the last round?"
"I am engaging in speculation," said Chekov. "I am putting my money on Mr. Spock being an excellent fighter."
Jim found he couldn't argue with that.
His first round opponent was a new recruit he'd met a couple times in passing, a bright enough young man who nonetheless looked more than a little queasy about facing off against Jim Kirk. Under ordinary circumstances, Jim would have been a little nicer, tried to take it easy on him, maybe teach him something, instead of taking him down with ruthless efficiency. But all he wanted to do today was finish his own match so he could see Spock's.
He beat the recruit 4-0 in under five minutes, but Spock was already waiting for him at the side of the ring, watching with raised eyebrows.
"Are you done?" Jim demanded.
"Did you win?"
"I did. You could have defeated Kelly two moves sooner in the last round."
"Thank you, Mr. Spock. I always appreciate your feedback."
Every round was the same. No matter how fast Jim was, Spock was just a little faster. They were both unbeatable, but Spock was untouchable, the only person who hadn't let an opponent land a single hit.
"I think you're in trouble, Jim," said Bones, after round four. He wasn't cleared for duty yet, but he said he'd be damn if he missed the combat. He was on crutches, but aside from that, he seemed like his old self.
"I don't have to beat him," he pointed out. "We just have to be well-matched."
"Christ, Jim, he's a green-blooded fighting machine. I don't think you'll be able to hit him either."
"So give me some pointers. What's his style? What are his opening moves?"
"You think I know? If our fight proved anything, it's that I'm not a fighter. I don't know what he does. He's better at using a stick than they are and he beats them. That's it."
"Well, watch the next round and tell me what you see. Hell, film it, you have a phone."
"And give you an unfair advantage?"
"Sounds like you think I need all the help I can get. I'm sure Spock doesn't mind. Besides, think about how many times he's seen me fight. If anyone has an unfair advantage here, it's him."
Bones rolled his eyes, but after round six, he found Jim again and shoved his phone into his hands. "There, I got two fights for you. But that's all. Chekov says if I influence the outcome of the fight, he'll cancel my bet and not refund me."
"Who did you bet on?" Jim asked, absent, as he pulled up the video.
"You, of course. I'm going to lose money either way, but if by some miracle you land two hits, I'll at least get a little back."
"Nice of you to give me something to shoot for," he murmured, but already his attention was on the video, on Spock's quick, efficient dispatching of Janice Rand. Jim knew her in passing, and he would have said she was a good soldier. He'd fought her in the second round, and she'd scored two hits against him before he took her down.
But Rand, like Jim, was a soldier. She fought like a soldier. And Spock fought like an athlete, like a dancer. His body was water, flowing around Rand, always just out of her reach. He'd never seen anything like it.
"Two hits?" he asked Bones. The second video was just the same, as mesmerizing as it was intimidating. He had known Spock for over a year. How had he not known he could look like this?
"You might be losing money."
"Just remember, if nothing else works, you can always try to bite him."
"Thanks, Bones. I'll keep that in mind."
Chekov had Jim and Spock wait until all the other fights had finished before they started.
"I fail to see the logic of this," said Spock. "It would be most efficient to complete all the fights as quickly as possible."
"Not everything is about logic, Mr. Spock. The other candidates want to see you! You two are the title fight. I will not deny them this."
Jim nodded. "He has a point, Spock. If trends continue, our match won't take long, and the others would be sad to miss it."
"I do not understand the appeal of watching our combat, but I will defer to your collective knowledge of human desire."
"We should give them a good show, you know. Try not to beat me too quickly."
Spock's eyebrow went up. "You believe I will beat you?"
"Bones showed me a recording of two of your fights. Your speed and strength are bad enough, but I'm also completely unfamiliar with Vulcan martial arts. And don't tell me you're just as unfamiliar with humans--you've seen me fight countless times now."
"True. But, given that you know that, I assume you will try to be unpredictable. The other cadets were neither experienced enough as fighters nor familiar enough with me to adapt their techniques. I believe you will be more successful."
"I appreciate that, Mr. Spock. I only hope I live up to your high expectations of me."
Despite the tangle of nerves in his stomach, Jim appreciated having a little more of a break before his bout with Spock. The two of them watched the other fights shoulder-to-shoulder, critiquing the forms and techniques, discussing which candidates would make good partners themselves. It felt like a done deal, his and Spock's partnership. It felt like they were drifting already.
And then, all at once, the other fights finished, scores were posted, and Chekov was announcing the match they'd all come to see. He really was the perfect hype man, Jim had to admit, but the words washed over him, white noise. All he could focus on was Spock across from him. He'd taken all comers today, hadn't had anyone even land a hit on him, but he thought Jim could do it. He thought Jim could surprise him.
Jim cracked his neck, shook out his shoulders, and waited.
Spock cocked his head, watching with interest. Jim tended to make the first move, and in the fights Jim had seen, Spock favored being on the defensive. When Jim stepped in, Spock mirrored the movement; when Jim shifted his grip on his staff, Spock did the same. But Jim didn't move into combat range, and Spock didn't either.
Jim wasn't sure how long they stood there, waiting, sizing each other up, but it was long enough that someone--he strongly suspected Sulu--yelled, "Get on with it!"
Spock raised his eyebrow, a challenge, and Jim shrugged, just one shoulder, a tiny motion. "Your move, Mr. Spock."
Another long moment stretched between them, and then Spock sprang forward, so fast Jim was almost caught off his guard. He threw his staff up to block the assault, and then they were off, the familiar pattern of strike and parry, a dance Jim had done a dozen times, but never with such a talented partner.
It was so easy to get wrapped up in the rhythm that he missed it when Spock broke the pattern, sweeping Jim's feet out from under him. Before he knew it, he was on the ground with Spock's staff hovering mere centimeters over his neck.
"First point to me," he said.
"A hit, a very palpable hit," Jim agreed. He offered his hand and Spock pulled him up. Warmth and exhilaration flowed through Jim for a dizzying second, but then he was on his feet, steady, and getting back in position.
Spock was good, but Jim had learned from that first round. He wasn't good at improvising; he was good at finding openings and taking them. He'd overpowered his previous opponents with speed and strength, but he liked the rules of engagement. His rules might have been different, but not so different that Jim couldn't follow them. And Spock had never been the best at improvisation. As Spock had said, if Jim was unpredictable, he might be able to keep the Vulcan off balance.
"You can't tell me after that that we aren't drift compatible," he said, accepting a bottle of water from Chekov as he and Spock slumped together on a bench. It had been 4-3, with Jim eking out a narrow victory after almost half an hour of almost non-stop combat.
It was unpreceded, it was exhilarating, and Jim couldn't stop grinning.
"We are drift compatible," said Spock.
"Really? I thought you'd at least tell me you had to double check."
"No. The combat would have had to go significantly worse to impact our high compatibility. We are, without question, drift compatible. I would estimate our score at 94.6% overall."
"Incredible. Did you know it would be that high?"
"I suspected. Without going through the tests, I could not be sure."
"Well, I think we're sure now."
"I knew you wouldn't let me down!" said Bones, taking the spot to Jim's left and clapping him on the shoulder. "Drinks on me tonight, boys, I cleaned up on that fight."
"Happy to be of service," said Jim. "I'm not sure I'm up for drinks tonight. I don't think I've ever been so achy in my life."
"Oh, stop complaining, I'm the invalid. If I can suck it up, you can. There's a bar around the corner that does the Jaeger Bombs tinted with Kaiju Blue, they're good for what ails you."
"Is that your medical opinion?" Spock asked.
"It is. Just because Vulcans don't metabolize alcohol doesn't mean the rest of us can't enjoy it. I'm feeling generous, I'll buy you something fruity and virgin."
"Non-alcoholic," Jim supplied. "Bones, I'm half dead on my feet, I don't think electric-blue shots will cure that."
"Fine, have it your way. I'm going without you. I have a lot to celebrate. I'm well enough to stand on my own two feet, you've got a new co-pilot who'll actually be good at it, and you," he finished, reaching across Jim to jab Spock in the chest, "are finally getting the hell out of my lab."
"Come on, Bones, being a pilot won't take up all his time. Spock will still need a home base for his research."
"Don't ruin this for me. Scotty!" he called, standing and making his way over to the engineer. "Let me buy you a drink!"
"You could have gone with him," Spock pointed out. "You also have much to celebrate."
Jim closed his eyes and allowed himself the brief indulgence of resting his head on Spock's shoulder. He already felt half-drunk, giddy with adrenaline and vindication. And tomorrow, he and Spock would get to test their new bond. He'd never been in a Jaeger with someone he was really drift compatible with. And no one had ever been in a Jaeger with a Vulcan.
"No," he assured Spock. "I'm good here."
Jim had attempted the neural handshake with three people before Spock. Gary had been first, before Spock had figured out the tests, before they had a good way of deciding how to put pilots together. Their arguments had been sound, persuasive enough to sway both Pike and Spock: friends for years, occasional lovers, crewmates. If Jim could drift with anyone, it should have been Gary. They were the ideal guinea pigs.
Spock said it wasn't anyone's fault, and as Jim got to know him, he realized Spock wouldn't have said that if he didn't believe it. Not all humans could drift, as it turned out. Jim could, Gary couldn't. Jim hadn't done anything wrong, but Gary's mind would still never fully recover. He would always be the first casualty of the Jaeger program.
After that, Jim had been reluctant to try again, especially when his drift compatibility scores were so underwhelming. But Spock told him a low score didn't mean there would be a repeat of the accident with Gary. All of the candidates were capable of drifting; a low compatibility would affect handling of the Jaeger, not mental health. So Jim had finally agreed to try with Sulu, and when it went fine, a weight lifted off his shoulders. They'd only drifted a handful of times after that, until Uhura came along and scored much higher than Jim had on her compatibility with Sulu, but it had never gone badly.
Bones had been third, longest, and best, more like how he thought it would be with Gary. It wasn't the strongest connection, and Bones really wasn't meant to be a pilot, but they'd made it work. His injury hadn't been anyone's fault; fighting kaiju was a dangerous business. It could have just as easily been Jim who'd gotten hurt.
Still, he couldn't help being a little nervous about drifting with Spock.
"This was your idea," Spock pointed out, watching Jim's leg jiggle with a small frown.
"I'm aware. I still think it's a good one. But I'm nervous. Aren't you nervous?" It only took him a second, and then he said it with Spock: "Vulcans are not nervous." He sighed. "Is nervousness really an emotion?"
"Whether it is an emotion or not, it is not something we experience."
"So you just think everything is going to be fine. No concerns? You had concerns when I suggested this."
"I have many concerns. You did not seem interested in them before, why are you now?"
Jim considered, leaning back in his seat and looking up at the ceiling. Scotty was doing his final checks on their Jaeger, Enterprise Gamma, and all they had was time until he was done. "I don't want anything to go wrong again. So tell me why you're not worried, and I won't be either."
"I am not concerned that there will be a repeat of your first drifting experience. We are both capable of drifting and I have no doubt it will go well." It was his turn to pause. "I told you that the drift is based on Vulcan bonds, but it is not the same. I do not know what will happen to me when I drift with you, or how much of the bond will remain once we leave the drift."
"After we leave?" Jim asked. "Is that possible?"
"For Vulcans, these bonds are always in our minds. Whether or not this will be the case with us has yet to be tested."
"What's that like? When the bond is always there. You could just walk into my memories?"
"Not by accident. The bond is passive, for Vulcans. It can be nurtured or ignored, but it is a part of you. I can still reach out to my parents, even from here, thanks to our familial bond."
"Amazing. Can you speak to them?"
"Not in the way you think of speech. I can press on the bond, and they will sense that and respond. My mother checks in often with me through our bond, to make sure I am still well."
Jim smiled. "I guess Vulcan mothers are the same as human mothers,. Mine does the same thing, but on the phone."
"I would not know," said Spock, facing straight ahead, voice as calm and as even as ever. "I do not have a Vulcan mother; I have a human one."
Jim's jaw actually dropped, and he was still scrambling, trying to put words together, when Chekov's voice crackled over the PA. "Enterprise Gamma ready for neural handshake. Pilots Kirk and Spock report to Bay Three."
"Human," he croaked, finally. "Your mother is human. And you never mentioned this."
"You were about to find out. They are waiting for us," he added, starting towards the bay with long strides, and Jim scrambled to catch up.
"How is your mother human?"
For once, Spock didn't play dumb. "My father served on the same kind of exploration vessel I did, and his ship also came here to determine if humanity was prepared for first contact."
"Exactly how long have you been visiting us?"
"Exactly two-hundred-seventeen Earth years. Since we first became aware of your species and your potential for warp travel. We were unsure when you would develop the capacity, which is usually our threshold for first contact."
"But then the kaiju arrived."
Spock nodded. "As you had already had first contact with another alien species that would destroy you without our aid, we agreed that the correct choice was to assist you."
"But you were abducting humans before this."
"My mother was not abducted. My father was sent to investigate the planet and met her. He had taken steps to disguise his identity, but she realized he was not who he claimed to be. The two of them became close, and when he left, she asked to go with him."
Something strange lodged in Jim's throat. "And that was allowed?"
"No one stopped him."
"Does this happen often? How many half-human, half-Vulcans are there?"
"Only one," he said, and pushed open the bay doors, ending the conversation.
Enterprise Alpha had been the first Jaeger, the one that Jim and Gary had tried to pilot together, and it had needed heavy repairs after that disaster. The Beta had been Jim and Bones' Jaeger, and even though it had lost half its limbs in the fight with Hammerhead, part of Jim had been hoping that wouldn't warrant a new model. Somehow, being on his third Jaeger felt like a personal failing.
But now, looking up at Enterprise Gamma with Spock by his side, it felt right. They were a new team. They deserved their own Jaeger.
"Are you ready?" Jim breathed.
He had to smile. "Of course. I don't know why I asked."
It always took longer to prepare for the handshake than Jim was expecting, so many checks and double checks, especially when he was so eager. There was nothing like the neural handshake, nothing like getting into another person's head, seeing their mind, and Jim found it as exhilarating as it was terrifying. He wasn't worried about a repeat of what had happened with Gary, but Spock was right that no human had ever drifted with a Vulcan before.
But a human had bonded with a Vulcan. Spock wasn't working only from theory here.
Finally, they were fully strapped in, and Chekov's voice crackled into their headsets. "Mr. Kirk, Mr. Spock. Ready for neural handshake?"
"Ready, Mr. Chekov," said Jim.
"Countdown to handshake commencing. In five, four, three, two--"
The last number was lost in the wash of the drift, and Jim found himself giddy in a way he never had been before. When he'd drifted with Sulu and Bones, he largely knew what to expect, the same kind of background he had: a childhood, a Jaeger attack, the decision to join the fight against them.
In Spock's memory, he saw an alien world, red and hot, a desert planet full of people who looked like Spock, at least to Jim's eye. But they knew Spock wasn't one of them, not really. As everyone on Earth only saw Spock's Vulcan half, the Vulcans only saw his humanity. His weakness, his emotionality, his softness. No matter how hard he tried, the rest of Vulcan didn't see him as logical; they saw him as other. He said he was a typical Vulcan even as he spent his whole life being told he was lacking.
But he didn't give up. He exceled in his studies, leaving every school at the top of his class, with his pick of positions once his education was completed. He opted to serve on a starship, wanting to see his mother's planet, to understand the other half of his life.
"It is not our place to interfere," said his captain, after another flash forward. "The humans do not have warp capability, therefore we will not contact them."
Spock stood his ground. "If we do not contact them, they will die."
She shrugged one elegant shoulder. "Species die." Spock opened his mouth, but the captain went on. "I understand your emotional attachment to your mother's people, however--"
"If we allow an advanced race to destroy a less advanced one when we could prevent it, we are as responsible for their deaths as if we had killed them ourselves. If the Klingons were attacking, we would engage the Klingons, would we not? What makes this threat so different, that we should stand aside and let them die?"
The captain considered that. "We cannot save them alone. We would need reinforcements from the homeworld."
"They may very well die before we could return with reinforcements."
"They may. What do you suggest?"
"I will stay," said Spock, squaring his shoulders. "And assist them in combating the invaders until such time as Vulcan can provide reinforcements."
"If that is your decision."
"It will take time," said the Vulcan. "And we may not convince the elders."
"If you ask my father to assist you, you will convince them."
The captain nodded and then held up her hand, her fingers split, making a V between them. "Live long and prosper, Spock."
The memories shifted, back to a swirl of impressions instead of a scene. Spock coming to Earth, meeting Director Pike, being shown Earth's defenses, the Jaeger project. Jim remembered the debates they'd had on his ship about whether or not trusting another alien to help them was really wise, if Spock was just going to fuck them over from the back while the kaiju did it from the front.
Jim had never doubted, somehow. He had signed up for the first wave of the Jaeger project and never looked back.
As he thought it, he saw himself, sudden and bright and golden in Spock's memory, the first time he came into the lab looking for Bones. In Jim's memory, Spock was cool and calm, polite as he asked Jim why he was in the lab, if Spock could help him. In Spock's own memory, he was unnerved, twisted up, a tangle of strange feelings, of inexplicable interest in this vibrant, charming human.
Did Spock know he was seeing this? Did he care?
Jim could feel himself at the edges of all Spock's memories after that, as if no matter where Spock was, Jim was tugging at the corner of his consciousness. As if Jim already had a corner of his mind, like his mother and his father did.
"What are the odds I'm compatible with you?" Jim asked, in Spock's memory's, and again, it was so different, seeing it from Spock's perspective. Spock had known, from the very beginning, that they were compatible. That despite his own best efforts to stay away, he was drawn to Jim, already forming a bond with him. If they entered the drift together, there would be no going back. The bond would solidify, and Spock, at least, would always feel it.
And Jim would know too. Jim would know exactly how Spock felt about him.
"Neural handshake complete," said Chekov. "How are we feeling?"
Jim swallowed hard, glancing over at Spock. As always, his face gave nothing away, but Jim didn't need it to. "Fantastic, Mr. Chekov," he said, once he could make his voice work. "Never better."
Spock, when it came right down to it, knew what he was doing. He'd known what he was doing when he agreed to drift with Jim, and he knew what he was doing when he presented Jim with a carefully curated selection of memories. Spock wasn't a first-time pilot, chasing random memories because he didn't know any better. Spock had wanted Jim to see exactly what he saw.
He still left without saying a word, slipping out while Jim was debriefing with Chekov and Pike. Not that Jim didn't get the appeal, if he was honest. Telling people how you felt was hard enough for humans; he couldn't imagine how much worse it would be for a race that pretended not to even have emotions. He wouldn't be looking forward to the aftermath either.
Which didn't mean Jim was going to let him off the hook. But Spock had at least done a very good job of making sure Jim knew where he was coming from.
He tried the lab first, but found only Bones, which was, at that exact moment, worse than finding no one.
"How'd it go?"
Jim sunk into Spock's seat, aware at every point of contact that he was in Spock's seat. He could smell him. "Fine."
Bones raised his eyebrows. "Fine?" he demanded. "Fine? You're the first human in history to drift with a Vulcan and all you can say is fine?"
A few smart remarks occurred to him, and he even thought about correcting Bones--Spock's mother was most likely the first human to bond with a Vulcan, and Jim had, technically, only drifted with a half-Vulcan--but that could wait. "It went well," he corrected. "Very well."
"Have you seen him? Spock, I mean."
"Why would I have seen him? You're the one who's so compatible with him, shouldn't you know where he is?"
Jim snapped his fingers. "You're a genius, Bones."
Spock had said there might be a bond, hadn't he? There was already one on his side. All Jim had to do was find it. Leaning back in the chair, he closed his eyes, searching his mind for the part that was always aware of Spock, always thinking of him. The part that--
And there it was. Spock. He nudged it, curious, and Spock nudged back. And just like that, Jim knew.
"Are you ever going to tell me what's going on?" Bones asked, as Jim shot out the door.
"Soon!" he called over his shoulder, and then he was gone.
Jim had showed Spock the way to the roof three weeks after they met. Spock had seemed uncomfortable, and when Jim asked why, he explained that there were too many people on the base, that it was noisy and sometimes overwhelming for someone more used to being on his own. Jim had offered to show him where he went to get away, and Spock had followed him up staircases and through restricted doors without question, until finally they made it to the roof, empty and open to the stars, and Spock had taken a breath like he hadn't breathed in years.
He shouldn't have needed the bond to figure it out.
When Jim came up here, he brought a blanket and a bottle of something, but Spock wasn't Jim. He was standing by the edge of the roof, ramrod straight, his hands behind his back, looking at the sky as if the stars were briefing him on his next mission. Jim wondered if Vulcan was that direction, if Spock was looking to home, or if the whole universe felt like his home. What would it be like, to give up a life exploring the stars just to keep one small, backwards race from dying out?
"I apologize," said Spock, before Jim could say anything.
"For not telling you all my concerns."
"Those concerns being that you were in love with me, and I would find out in the drift?"
He could see Spock's throat bob as he swallowed. "Yes. You should have known that before, so that you could evaluate whether or not you still wished to proceed. I should have given you that choice."
"Why didn't you?"
"At first, I thought I could talk you out of drifting through some other means. Then, I hoped we would not be as compatible as we both believed we were. This was illogical and irrational, but--" He swallowed. "I could not determine a way to convince you not to drift with me without admitting how I felt about you. And I did not want to admit that."
"So you waited until we'd drifted and let that take care of it."
"As I said, I apologize."
"What did you see in my memories?" he asked. "When I looked at you."
Spock's breath came out shaky. "Curiosity. Interest. Friendship. Attraction. Uncertainty."
"It's only logical to assume that a race that doesn't believe in emotion also doesn't believe in love," Jim pointed out. "I knew better than to get attached when I knew there was no hope of reciprocation."
Spock was still looking up, but he swayed a little closer to Jim, like a tree in the breeze. "I was not aware humans were able to control their emotions so well."
"We can't," Jim admitted. "But we're very good at denial. Spock," he added, nudging his shoulder against the Vulcan's. "Look at me."
His throat bobbed again and then he did. Even in the darkness, Jim knew his features, his face. Alien, yet so familiar. "Jim," he said, and Jim cupped his jaw with one hand and drew him down.
There was a chill in the air, a chill Jim could taste on Spock's lips. He hadn't been outside for very long, but Jim knew now that he came from a desert planet, and that was why he always seemed a little cold on Earth. His skin was warm, though, and his mouth, once he caught up to what Jim was doing, was pliant and willing. After a second, his hands came to Jim's waist, and he pulled him closer, and it was better than drifting, better than anything else Jim had ever felt. He'd kissed a lot of people, but kissing Spock was like nothing else.
"Do you do this on Vulcan?" he murmured.
Spock's voice was as steady as ever. "We do not."
"Do you want to stop?"
"No. However--" He slid one of his hands down, tangled his fingers with Jim, and Jim felt that rush of warmth, a thrill of contact and contentment that he'd always thought was his alone, until he'd seen Spock's mind.
"You said Vulcan telepathy is touch-based," he said. "When you touch my hand--"
"Despite my mental barriers, I have found some feelings have made it to you, yes."
"The feelings you don't have."
"The feelings we control."
Jim ran his fingers over Spock's palm, and Spock shivered. "And how are those feelings you have under control right now, Mr. Spock?"
Spock leaned back in. "Quite satisfactory," he murmured, and kissed Jim again.
"If you wanted me to be surprised, you shouldn't have told me your high-school class voted you most likely to sleep with an alien for senior superlatives," said Bones, which was admittedly true, but also a far cry from Jim's desired reaction. "It was bad enough you told me that at all, but two days after you met Spock? You weren't fooling anyone."
"Except myself. And, apparently, Spock."
"Don't blame me for your idiocy, I certainly wasn't going to try to help you figure it out." He glanced over at Jim, some of his curmudeonly facade dropping. "You know you have less than a year left, don't you? Before his people get back here and take him away."
"Yes, Bones, I know about the passage of time. But we're his people too, you know." He'd filled Bones in on Spock's heritage before he filled him on their relationship, hoping that the relationship would be the bigger bombshell.
"I'm still not convinced you two didn't make that up."
"I've been in his head. I've seen his mother."
Jim leaned back. "And maybe I could go with him. See the universe. Do you know how many species there are out there? Thousands! Millions! And we could meet them."
"What's this about we? If you want to hurtle through an endless vacuum with your green-blooded boyfriend, it's your funeral, but I know better. I'm keeping both my feet on solid ground." He sighed. "Then again, I suppose your heart has always been in the stars."
Spock chose that moment to open the door, although of course Jim had known he was coming. The bond was still new, but Spock had showed him the Vulcan mind meld, the model for the drift, both before and during sex, and cemented the connection. He would be able to find Spock anywhere, no matter how far, for the rest of his life.
Not that he was planning to ever be anywhere but at Spock's side.
He threw Bones a grin as he vacated Spock's chair. "Nonsense. My heart is right here."