With the erosion of what control remains to Jim, the house feels far too small. Drawing in himself, Spock searches for some remnant of his own control; a meditation trance is beyond him at this point, but focus brings a certain amount of relief from the strain of having Jim so close and radiating a tangle of emotion that Spock can't begin to unravel.
He'd prepared for all possibilities that could result from this course of action, but that does not change the fact that all he knows is theory. The memories of his father's careful, dispassionate explanation in his childhood had not prepared him for the reality of this, nor his mother's more emotional descriptions of a process so foreign to Vulcan tenets that it had always seemed unreal.
Even grounding himself in the strictest disciplines of his people, there's little relief; pon farr is and has always been their one eternal exception to all that Vulcans were. Many have tried to resist it and few have ever succeeded. Spock does not think he or Jim will be extraordinary exceptions to that rule, perhaps most importantly because there is the possibility neither of them wish to be.
Abruptly, Spock feels Jim's mind focus on him, a tug of attention that's more intimate than a touch, breaking through the faint veneer of stability Spock had managed to achieve. It's a physical effort not to rise and seek him out, waiting with barely leashed patience as he feels Jim climb the stairs, then hesitate in the hall just outside the door.
Spock's methodically removed every option except this one, the only one with any chance of success; there was no possibility he would fail. That does not change the irrational hope that Jim will allow what is to happen to be his choice, before there is no choice for either of them left.
After a long moment, the door opens, and Jim comes in, kicking it shut behind him before leaning against the heavy wood. Looking at Spock, he nods tiredly. "You win."
Spock rests both hands against the floor, palms pressing to the rough weave of the rug. "It was not a competition."
"With us, it's always a competition." Sighing, Jim presses his shoulders against the door, tilting his head back with a soft gasp. "Okay. I have to get this out first before anything else. I asked for you, you know that."
Spock inclines his head. "I do not see the relevance of--"
"Oh, it's relevant." Taking a deep breath, Jim looks at him again. "There couldn't be anyone else. Not because of the--I couldn't even remember all this shit until this started, what they were to each other. He said we'd be friends, and hey, so he told you too? Talk about not revealing the breadth of interaction--"
"Right." Jim hisses a breath, hands fisting at his sides. "It's just, there's four people I can hear in this room right now and three of them are me." Licking his lips, Jim pushes off the door, dropping to the rug a few feet away, hands curling into helpless fists against his thighs. "You can read me right now. So you know everything I'm saying is true. I can't lie like this even if I want to, and I've never lied to you anyway. It wasn't like that with us. This--him--wasn't why I wanted you."
Jim shifts restlessly, other memories trying to break through, subsume him beneath them that he fights back in the space of a breath, opening his eyes to look at Spock again, wholly himself.
"The thing is--there are ghosts and ghosts," he says huskily. "I've--I remember the universe they lived in, the wars they fought, the men they were. We can't be like them, and I don't want us to. Their universe had a Federation that didn't have a founding member nearly wiped out. You were a great peacekeeper to the Romulans, for fuck's sake, and I was--" Jim swallows, eyes glassy. "Different."
Going up on his hands and knees, Jim crosses the space between them. "I don't want to be the man Ambassador Spock knew," Jim whispers. "I don't want to do this like they did. I want to do this like we will, like everything we've done. I never wanted you to be anything else. That's truth. This is us.
"Show me what you've got, Commander."
That's all the permission required; Spock reaches for him, pinning him against the floor. With a choked laugh, Jim arches, hands fisting in Spock's tunic and jerking him close, lips brushing his. "Get them out of my head," Jim whispers, "and remind me what we're doing out here, the people we are. I don't want to live someone else's life with someone else's memories. I don't want him. I want you."
Jim's skin is hot to the touch; his mouth is even hotter, wet and iron-edged with blood, laughing even as Spock pushes between his knees. "Jim," he hears himself say, and Jim's mind already reaching out, eager, desperate, hungry in a way that Spock no longer has to fight the desire to take. Spreading his fingers over his face, Spock sucks in a breath at the immediacy of Jim's thoughts: hope, and yearning so deep Spock wonders how he's been able to hide it for so long, the rush of anger under no control at all; forced to live the memories of two men from a different time, a different world, burning for days, weeks, unable to escape the constant presence of those other lives. Spock eases the memories away, fingers of thought interlocking with Jim's as Jim's hands slide up his back beneath the tunic, fingernails scraping the line of vertebrae.
"Oh," Jim whispers, tilting his head back as Spock bites the point of his jaw, blood rising beneath the skin. "You were jealous."
Spock bites harder, and Jim arches, laughing, rubbing himself against Spock, unable to stop himself and unable to even want to. "God, I had no idea--" It's appropriate, Spock thinks, to allow such understanding to pass between them in the privacy of their minds, strengthening the thin thread of awareness, more threads winding between them, pulling their minds closer. You're a manipulative bastard. Jim thinks, forming the thought carefully, clearly. You drive me crazy, you know that? Let's do this.
Spock sits up, stripping away Jim's thin, sweat-dampened t-shirt, letting him go only long enough to toss it aside before touching him again, pressing deeper into the chaotic welcome of Jim's mind. There's no resistance, no matter how deeply Spock reaches, welcoming and surrounding and impossibly easy, the way no mind he's ever touched has ever been.
Jim's fingers clumsily work open the opening of his jeans, pushing them down his hips before reaching for Spock's, grinding up with a broken gasp that Spock swallows before it finds air.
Jim reaches between them, fingers closing tight around his cock. This is where we've been going since the day we met, on a mental bite, sharp and all Jim, restless edges that slice through Spock like a razor. What do you want? You can have anything you want from me.
"I think," Spock says, heat flaring up his spine at the slick slide of fingers down his back, digging into the small of his back as Jim grinds up, joy breaking through the heat of pure lust, "that I want to fuck you. Do you have any objections?"
"Would you care if I did?"
I would convince you otherwise.
Jim groans in another laugh, shoving a hand into the loose pockets of his jeans and holding up a small tube. "Show me."
The hum of the bond between them is almost enough to obliterate thought; Spock pulls back as Jim jerks his jeans off, tossing them aside, cock hard and flushed purple against his belly, staring at Spock in barely leashed challenge. Not waiting for Spock to finish undressing, Jim straddles his lap, taking the tube and twisting it open, slicking his fingers before reaching between them, hand wet as it slides twice over Spock's cock.
"I want to feel it this time," Jim murmurs, raising himself on his knees, and Spock cups the sharp angles of his hips just as Jim pushes down, opening up around him by sheer will, gasping helplessly against his throat, blue-black pain and satisfaction fighting for dominance in his mind. "Like this," Jim murmurs, teeth scraping up the side of his throat. "God. Spock."
Spock doesn't give him time to adjust, thrusting up, seated fully inside the tight heat of Jim's body and feels Jim's teeth break skin in bright, sharp pleasure. Jim reaches for his tunic, pulling it off to get at skin, skidding the fine line between lust and desperation, focused sharply on Spock to the exclusion of all else.
Then they're both beyond thought--there's just Jim, pinned to the floor beneath him, hot satisfaction and desire twining between them, white heat trailing every touch, and Jim's choked More, and Harder and Please yes inside me closer, I need you, I want you, it's been days and I don't can't, never wanted anyone anything like this, like you and here, Spock can answer wordlessly, possessively, that he won't, not after this.
Pressing his fingers to the psi-points, Spock shudders at the wide-open connection, burying himself as deeply in Jim's mind as he does his body, the white-hot edge of orgasm approaching too quickly to fight; Jim's heel digs into the back of his thigh, body stilling before contracting impossibly tight around him as he comes, too shocked to breathe, his mind filled with Spock's name. Still shaking with Jim's pleasure, Spock comes too and Jim shudders, hips jerking up before Jim collapses bonelessly against the rug, gasping helplessly.
Panting against Jim's shoulder, Spock's unable to separate their feelings and doesn't care to try. It's only a pause, the build starting again at the base of his spine, crawling through Jim in electric shocks of need, blind and blinding. Licking the sweat from Jim's cheek, Spock kisses the open mouth and answers Jim's More, now, more with a rock of his hips, Jim slick and open around him, stroking back sweat-dark hair from Jim's eyes and answering, Anything, t'hy'la.
"I think," Spock says, catching Jim's mouth in a slow kiss, "that it is your turn."
Jim's fingers tighten in his hair, body twisting in a way Spock hadn't been aware human anatomy was designed to achieve, hips rocking up, and Spock hisses at the drag of his cock against Jim.
"You know, you could be more appreciative." Jim reaches for the headboard, fingers white around the metal, eyes heavy-lidded and teasing. Spock doesn't think he's ever been anything other than appreciative. "Bullshit," Jim murmurs, biting Spock's lip, "you said it wasn't logical to continue on the floor and I know it wasn't for the sake of my back."
"I did not wish for you to be uncomfortable," Spock answers, distracted by Jim opening around him. Jim groans, fingernails digging into Spock's back. Cupping Jim's face, Spock stills, waiting until the blue eyes open again, glazed and nearly black, the mindless need rising again, no less urgent than the first time, if more familiar. "I want you."
Jim licks his lips. "You have me. Any way you want me--God, but this way is working for me really well." Jim shifts beneath him, trying to move, but Spock holds them both still, pinning Jim's hips to the mattress. "Spock. Come on."
"I want," Spock starts, feeling Jim's curiosity fighting through the pull of his body; thinking will be beyond them both too soon. "I must--I do not wish to end this."
"Really not sure we can stop--fuck, Spock, move--"
"The--" Spock catches his breath, fighting down the urgent need to move, to move now. "We have bonded. I do not wish to break it. I have been--careful--"
Jim's hand covers his, pressing it against his skin, mind edged with anger. Did you think I'd do this half-way? That I'd want to? "You're a crappy telepath," Jim whispers. "Do it."
And, How could you not know this?
Letting go of the headboard, Jim pulls Spock's forehead against his. Show me what to do.
Spock feels Jim's mental shift, easy now, so easy that Spock is surrounded in the familiar warmth of his mind almost instantly.
This is how we take a bondmate, Spock tells him. For us, this is instinct; it is among our earliest lessons, to control it, direct it, accept another's mind to join with our own for all of our lives. For you, it will be an act of faith and of trust. It will not be like anything else you have known.
"You never have been," Jim breathes. Jim's mind knows him, accepting each finger of thought as Spock slides deeper; Jim's mind is so familiar it is almost impossible to remember it is human, and he must be careful--
No. Hold back anywhere else. But never with me.
Abruptly, Jim's memories surround him, as immediate as his own, a life lived in seconds, images of Earth and the farmhouse they inhabit, the rare presence of the mother who hid from herself in the stars that she hated for taking the husband she loved, the sons who reminded her too much of what she had lost. There's too much to see and understand at once, unsettled with edges of hurt and confusion, and the simmering anger that had lived in Jim's skin the whole of his life.
Even a Vulcan might resist giving so much, the entirety of a life opened for another to experience, from the most petty to the most powerful, and all the variations of self that existed between. Jim simply accepts; he's never learned how to fear what he does not know, and Spock--
I trust you.
Where the hell did you go to the school, Vulcan of the Flies? Oh. Oh. That was awesome. Bet he cried. Tell me he cried very emotionally.
Spock smiles helplessly against Jim's cheek, surrounded by protective anger and bone deep satisfaction as Jim explores the rush of his memories. Yes. He did.
I want to see-- Jim reaches tentatively, curious, and Spock's surprised how easy it is to give this, whatever Jim wants to see; somewhere distant, he's thrusting into Jim's body, skin slick with new sweat, licking into Jim's mouth, but it's a pale shadow of this, clumsy and distant compared to the intimacy of threading through Jim's thoughts, a mind unlike any he had ever touched. Jim studies his mother soberly, echoing Spock's own grief, his adoration of the mother she'd been before he'd ever understood the woman who had so easily defied the condemnation of her world and the rejection of her family, the mindless hatred of her husband's people, to marry a man and bear a son, to live a life far from the place of her birth, and never know she was their world entire.
God, Spock. She knew. Trust me. She knew.
Abruptly, Spock surfaces to slick skin, Jim's thighs tight against his hips, the urgency of their bodies grounding them back in the material world, fabric rough beneath his knees and Jim tight around him. After so long in their minds, physical sensation is overwhelming; Jim reaches for his cock, stripping it once before Spock pins his hands to the bed, watching him arch desperately and wrapping his own fingers around the hot length. He's beautiful. I enjoy seeing you like this. Come now, for me.
Jim does, breathless, exhausted, pliant and utterly open as Spock comes inside him, mind empty of everything but them.
Spock's unsurprised by the sudden appearance of Dr. McCoy on the porch but lets the doctor wait, finishing his adjustments to the replicator before answering the second flurry of knocking.
He regrets the impulse when he sees Dr. McCoy's face, pale and drawn and open with fear. "Spock. Is he--"
"He is asleep." Spock's aware of the contented hum of Jim's sleeping mind, finally at peace after too many restless nights, undercurrents of warmth and sleepy pleasure at Spock's touch. "You may take the most recent scans with you. They show a twenty-eight percent improvement in hormone and adrenal levels."
Spock studies the wall behind Dr. McCoy's head. "It can take up to three standard days for pon farr to pass," he says. "Due to the exertions required during this period, Jim will require a great deal of rest before he will be fit for duty. The readings should be satisfactory by the time we return."
"That's--really more than I wanted to know," Dr. McCoy finally answers, sounding strangled.
Dr. McCoy was fortunate to come while Jim slept; Spock suspects his report would be far less discreet. "I would prefer this remained private as well, Doctor, but you did ask."
"That was very stupid of me. Should I ask to examine him or will I need to have several drinks when I return to the ship? Not that this conversation isn't going to haunt my sleep," Dr. McCoy says, dropping into a chair and rubbing his face tiredly.
"It would be unwise for you to be present when he awakens," Spock answers, and perhaps it is the newness of their bond, or the faint presence of Jim in his mind that forces him to add. "He can be surprisingly single-minded."
"I hate you."
Jim would probably find this amusing. "Would you like some tea?" Spock inquire. McCoy squeezes his eyes closed, getting to his feet.
"I'm going back to the ship," Dr. McCoy answers, snatching the data solid from the table. "Check in every twelve hours--with scans, don't you dare let Jim get near the terminal--and for the love of God, after this is over, never mention it again."
"Do not trouble yourself, Doctor, it will not be mentioned again," Spock says, distracted by the faintest brush of Jim's mind, emerging from slumber. Opening the door, he hears himself add, "At least until next time."
McCoy gives him a single, horrified glare before the door closes.
That was hilarious. Can I give him details?
Spock follows the faint mental laughter up the stairs. I have never grasped the intricacies of the human concept of humor.
You are such a liar.
Pushing the door open, Spock pauses at the brush of fingers against his shoulder before he's pressed back into the door. "Admit it, you thought it was hysterical," Jim murmurs against his throat.
"I am currently in a compromised state," Spock answers, hissing softly at the scrape of teeth over bruised skin as Jim settles, tonguing the sensitive skin. "Dr. McCoy is very easy to shock."
"I think it's just you, really." Deliberately, Jim thinks of the many times Dr. McCoy had walked in on him with various partners over their years together at the Academy; closing his hands over Jim's hips, Spock turns them, shoving Jim into the wall.
"That was inappropriate," Spock says mildly, kissing Jim before he can answer.
It was supposed to be motivating. Jim's amusement is sinking beneath the rush of desire, flaring abruptly, reaching to pull Spock closer and panting into the kiss. Spock licks into his mouth, stealing each gasped breath until Jim is grinding against him desperately. Thought slips slowly away, and Spock pulls back, holding Jim against the door with one hand; blue eyes electric, mouth swollen, flushed and exclusively for Spock to see, stripped of everything but desire.
Turning him against the door, Spock bites the back of his neck and pushes inside him, thrumming satisfaction at Jim's strangled gasp, pushing back against him, please, please, Spock, please, do it move I need--
"I would prefer you do not think of former lovers," Spock murmurs against the back of his neck, skin salty with sweat beneath his tongue before Spock closes his teeth sharply over the knob of bone. "Ever."
Jim groans, tightening around him, already on the edge of climax. I already forgot them.
In the normal course of a Vulcan's life, barring extraordinary circumstances, the bond with a mate would be established long before the Time of Mating, allowing both minds to accustom themselves more slowly to the constant presence of another, before pon farr stripped away all but the need to become one in all ways.
The tradition of bonding in childhood was rooted in preventing the confusion and fear of total immersion in another being. If Spock could regret anything of what has happened, it's that Jim, without either a lifetime of understanding and expectation of what will come, or even time for adequate preparation, is forced to endure what few Vulcans would ever choose to experience.
Waking abruptly in response to Jim's distress, Spock soothes away the flare of panic, the fear of losing self beneath the weight of two lifetimes of memories.
"There's this ship," Jim says, controlling his breathing with difficulty, cold sweat breaking over every inch of skin. "I keep seeing this ship. Everything went wrong and no one knew what to do--." Shuddering, Jim unclenches his hands from the pillow. "What was that?"
"Your mind will organize itself, given time," Spock tells him, rubbing the length of his back as Jim tries to bring order to his thoughts with little success; the nature of pon farr does not easily allow concentration, and despite his exhaustion, Spock can feel the heated need below the surface. "When we return to the ship, I will teach you the disciplines we were taught to complete the integration. It is a great deal to absorb, but it will not change who you are."
"Yeah, it will," Jim whispers, turning his face into Spock's shoulder. "I read up--that's why you do this as kids, right? So you grow together and don't have to do it all at once like this?"
"I did not know you had researched the topic."
Jim lets out a slow breath, giving up control to allow Spock to ease away the remainder of the fear. "I was curious," he admits finally. "Plus, there's like, that week your instructors, your dad, and your mom all decided the sex talk had to happen right now. Once I got over the hideous realization that my--your mother was talking about my father in bed, it was really informative. Your father. The father. God."
Spock finds the memory without difficulty; that is not a time that is easy to forget. "I see."
Jim offers a vivid memory laced with embarrassment of his own stepfather and a class at school before burrowing beneath the blankets with a sigh, mouthing Spock's skin distractedly. "Yeah. That. I know the feeling."
"It will not change--the essence of self," Spock says slowly, thinking of his mother. "If there was true incompatibility, the bond would not form."
"I'm just saying, if I say anything is logical, ever, I'm going to blame you for it."
It's oddly gratifying to see Jim so relaxed; neither alcohol nor his surprisingly infrequent sexual encounters had brought him such boneless relaxation, sleepy comfort and contentment both, tactile even without the drive of physical desire.
"Yeah, that's you," Jim murmurs, eyes falling shut as he curls closer. The words drift away, but the feeling remains behind, memories that aren't anything more than impressions from a mind so young there was no context for what he felt, only that it was.
"I was making fun of the simulation," Jim says abruptly without opening his eyes. Spock stills. "Sorry. The memories kind of hit randomly."
"That is to be expected." After a moment, Spock continues stiffly, "I had suspected as much."
"Well, you were right, per usual. It was stupid, but if I really wanted to cheat, trust me, even you would've taken a while to figure out how."
Spock thinks of the long hours he'd spent in the mainframe, picking lines of code apart piece by piece, searching for the vulnerability that had allowed Jim's almost insultingly easy changes, and the unwilling admiration, if not of the act, of the mind that had so carefully crafted a response brilliant in its sheer audacity.
"Well, yeah, but I broke Starfleet's security my first year," Jim says in sleepy amusement. "That wasn't the challenge. I wasn't going to do anything at first," Jim continues "It was just--everyone wants to see what they could have done right. If you're going to command a starship, you get that you're going to do it wrong, but someone else will do it right. I had to know what was in me that would make the wrong decision."
Spock considers the statement, examining the memories of Jim's sick anger at the first failure, then the numb acceptance of the second, startled by the conclusion Jim had finally drawn from the evidence he was given. "You thought the failure was in yourself."
"Of course." How could I captain a ship and be responsible for the lives of hundreds, or thousands, or an entire galaxy, and have my own judgment be the reason they all died?
"That was not--precisely--the purpose of the exercise."
"Maybe not for anyone else, but I didn't go in there thinking failure was inevitable. There's always a way, even if we don't know what it is, even if we couldn't know." Jim pauses. Then I saw what it was supposed to do. And that really pissed me off.
Spock blinks away the sudden, vivid memories of the nights Jim spent imagining and discarding a hundred different solutions, anger growing as every hour passed, reading into the simple lines of code a lesson that Spock hadn't meant to teach: no matter what you do, what you are, how hard you work, how far you've come, how much you are willing to give up, you will never be good enough. And there's nothing you can do to change that.
"So you know, fuck it," Jim whispers against his shoulder. "The entire thing was a multiple choice question with a true/false chaser just to make sure you got it. I didn't like the choices." Spock feels keys beneath his fingers as Jim asked his own question with every line of code, a question that perhaps only Spock had understood existed. "I always preferred essay answers anyway."
The question the Kobayashi Maru asked was, what will you do if there is no chance of success? What will you do when every choice means failure? And my answer is, you only fail when you stop trying. A no-win only exists when you believe in it. Until then, everything is possible.
"That is not logical."
"That's why I won."
Spock considers this. "You did not win. You cheated to create a scenario where it was possible to defeat the Klingons."
Abruptly, Jim lifts his head, mouth curving into an incredulous smile. "You thought I was trying to beat the Klingons?"
The rush of affection and amusement is almost enough to distract him from the point of the conversation. "Was that not your intention?"
"No. You wrote it; you know there was no way to beat them."
"Spock." Pushing himself up on both elbows, Jim shakes his head. "The Kobayashi Maru didn't say I had to beat the Klingons. So I decided to beat the program instead."
"That is a--unique perspective," Spock says slowly, remembering the moment Jim had turned to look at the proctors, knowing they would never understand the answer he'd given them. "I had not considered it."
Jim grins, sinking back down and closing his eyes with a sigh. "Ego," Jim murmurs, drifting, "is the mother of invention. Or desperation. Something like that."
Spock finds himself looking at the quiet face for a long time before he finally finds sleep.
"All right," Dr. McCoy says, sounding vaguely irritable. "Looks like you're back to normal." His eyes flicker to Spock. "With some--apparently organic neural changes that I'm refusing to think about until Spock convinces his people to release his mother's medical records and I can get a comparison." Bones shudders, pushing Jim off the biobed. "Go away."
"Told you," Jim answers smugly. "And it's all thanks to the--"
"If you try and tell me again, I'll sedate you," Dr. McCoy says serenely, picking up a hypo and staring at it thoughtfully. "Spock, you're up."
"Doctor--" Spock begins.
"Don't care. Hop up and sit still while I illogically do my job and confirm you're clear. I assume some of the neural changes are going to match Jim's? Just nod or shake your head; we're not talking about this."
Jim leans against an empty biobed with a grin. "He has Vulcan sedatives, you know."
It seems to take an inordinate amount of time for Dr. McCoy to finish his exam; once it is completed, Dr. McCoy sends them both away with strict instructions never to speak of this again.
"Until next time!" Jim says cheerfully just before the doors of sickbay close. From the brief glimpse of Dr. McCoy's face, Spock assumes he would like an excuse to drink. "That will never stop being funny."
"Your opinion may change during your next physical and Dr. McCoy requires your vaccinations be renewed," Spock observes, following Jim to the turbolift. Jim's shields have been erect since they arrived on the Enterprise; while not functional as an actual barrier between them, Spock respects the privacy Jim seems to desire, though it's difficult to curb the instinctive dislike of the barrier. "We have permission to leave orbit in twenty-four hours to rendezvous with Fortune for a transfer of personnel--"
"Scotty's still sulking about losing two of his engineers," Jim says as they step inside. "My quarters okay? Since you've been trying really hard to not project we need to discuss this situation logically, Captain since this morning."
"That would be acceptable."
The remainder of their journey to Jim's quarters is strangely silent, which Spock finds unsettling combined with Jim's demand for privacy. Following Jim inside, Spock's surprised to see Jim pick up a datapad on the still-unmade bed and sit down. "Privacy lock," Jim says, then looks up. "Admiral Phillips."
Spock takes a careful breath; he had not anticipated this, but perhaps he should have. "I see."
"So we're going to talk about this now?" Jim says, voice deceptively light. Spock nods stiffly. "How about I start?
"The Antares is on record as the ship that brought you to back to Starfleet after you finished your service on the Hood while neglecting to mention it wasn't the original ship assigned to that quadrant. That was the Olympia, Constellation class, exploration." Jim pauses, looking down at the datapad thoughtfully.
"When I first looked it up, I couldn't figure out the connection. You weren’t assigned to his ship. Problem was, I was looking in the wrong place. The passenger manifest included thirty officers returning to earth after service on the Hood. Weird thing is, your official record doesn’t mention it."
"It was considered a matter of security--"
"I bet it was," Jim murmurs, almost as if to himself. "When a captain loses his ship, they have inquiries on the inquiries. Locked, of course." Without looking down, Jim touches the screen. "You'd think they would have updated their security after what I did with the Kobayashi Maru."
"I recommended that the weaknesses you exploited be patched," Spock says, crossing stiffly to the couch. "It was taken under advisement."
"Bad for them. Different system, same bad code."
Jim pauses, looking at the datapad intently. "A ship that exploded," he says quietly. "And no one knew what to do; I saw that. And I was--you were on the bridge. I decrypted the files when we got back." Jim looks up. "I thought--I guess I was tired of waiting for you to tell me."
"I did not think it was relevant."
Jim's mouth tightens, eyes returning to the datapad. "Phillips' inquiry was pretty interesting for being really uninformative." Sitting back, Jim looks at him thoughtfully. "But he was cleared, then he retired early with the largest private collection of sex toys in the Federation--he's in Guinness Book for it, I checked--and everyone went on their merry way." Jim pauses. "If he was cleared, there was no reason for him to retire, especially ten years early."
"The loss of a ship has been known to be difficult for their captains--"
"I know the statistics." Jim drops the datapad on the bed. "I also read the findings. The witness statements were pretty clear in their support of their captain, but they don't go into a lot of detail. Except one."
Spock had thought he'd anticipated Jim's probable reaction to discovering the details of the destruction of the Olympia. He had, after all, mentioned Phillips, and Jim is nothing if not curious. This reaction, however, he had not anticipated. "My testimony was complete."
"Oh, it was."
"I was thorough in outlining the chain of events--"
"You didn't lie, but that's about it. You left it so ambiguous they let him retire instead of bringing him up on charges--"
"There was confusion during the evacuation of the ship," Spock answers flatly. "There was much that could not be accounted for. His actions--"
"He didn't take action at all!" Getting to his feet, Jim stares at Spock. "He abandoned his ship under direct attack and let it be destroyed--"
"He attempted several options--"
"I'm not impressed with two half-assed attempts at return fire when he was outgunned and knew it. There's a window of fifteen minutes that the ship was under direct fire and there's a resounding lack of activity until the abrupt order to abandon ship." Jim pauses. "An order, by the way, that he didn't give."
Spock hesitates. "Fifteen minutes--"
"Ten to fifteen, give or take," Jim answers, mouth tight. "I know that because you said it. Your testimony was very thorough. I approve your mission reports; I know how to read what you're trying not to say. Including why you were on that bridge, when as a passenger en route to Starfleet, you had no business being there. We'll never really know why that happened; Phillips bridge crew didn't make it out of the ship. Explosive decompression is a hell of a way to die when your captain is running for his life."
Spock laces his fingers together, considering his answer. "A portion of the testimony was, as Starfleet explained, off the record. I was called to the bridge when it became apparent that another officer experienced in combat was needed. We attempted a third volley that was ultimately unsuccessful and the decision to abandon ship was made when shields began to fail."
"Phillips wasn't on the bridge after the third volley, was he? "
"No. He had suffered injury and required--"
"No captain leaves his bridge in a fight unless he's dead," Jim says flatly. "Let me try. When you got up there, he'd already fucked up so badly that even you couldn't figure out how to get out of it, but damned if you didn't try. When you realized there was no way out, you went to sickbay to get Phillips to give the order to evacuate and found out Phillips had already made a run for it. So you called up to the bridge for the first officer to order the ship be evacuated. That's when you found out they were already dead, and you gave the order yourself."
It's surprisingly accurate. "That is correct."
"And you still didn't let him be condemned for outright cowardice, much less losing his ship."
"Simulations of the events verified that no action he could have taken would have significantly changed the sequence of events after the shields began to collapse," Spock recites calmly. "It was, in essence, a no-win."
"Your simulations." Jim stops short, looking at Spock, eyes widening. "A no-win."
Spock hesitates; this, he thinks, Jim will understand. "When Starfleet wanted to add a more realistic simulation for senior cadets, I volunteered to use the Olympia's simulations as the basis of the test. Then-Captain Pike approved my request."
Jim sits heavily on the edge of the bed. "Did Phillips see it?"
"He was present when the final version was demonstrated and approved. He retired before it was added to the regular curriculum."
Jim stills, meeting Spock's eyes. "Were they going to give him another ship?"
For a few seconds, Jim doesn't reply; it would be easy to reach for his mind, but Spock keeps his shields carefully erect. Finally, Jim nods, almost to himself. "They knew what he'd done, and they were going to let him have another ship."
"The testimony of the other witnesses conflicted on the timeline of events. As I was not officially assigned to the ship, and in light of the testimony of the remainder of the crew, the inquiry was closed."
"And your presence and actions expunged from the official record, yeah, that makes sense if they decided they just didn't want to think about it too hard." Jim rubs his forehead. "You know, I thought you were just being an asshole when you brought me up on academic fraud. George Kirk's son with a flawless academic record--there was no way they weren't going to give me a ship eventually."
Leaning back on one arm, Jim takes a deep breath, looking anywhere but at Spock. "Is that why you agreed to join the crew, because you thought--"
"No." It would have been more logical to have had this conversation long before today; there had been opportunity. "Admiral Pike was not the only one to recommend you receive the Enterprise. I was consulted as the only other officer--"
"Ever to have me under his command, yeah, you get that a lot, don't you?" Jim's faint smile fades. "What changed your mind?"
"You will need to be more specific."
"Serving on the Enterprise." Jim's mind slips, a single word settling silently between them. Me.
Jim, Spock reminds himself, prefers essay answers. "As I explained to Admiral Pike when he made a similar inquiry, while you still lack some key traits of successful captains and have a rather unusual lack of regard for your own life, I've found over time that your--"
"Spock." Jim's eyes narrow. "Five words or less."
Spock allows himself to smile, very slightly. "I was curious."
"That's three and so not an answer."
"You specified five words or less."
Jim rolls his eyes, but for the first time since their conversation began, Jim is smiling. "This is one of those things I have to work out for myself, isn't it? You do that." Reaching for the datapad, Jim turns it off, lying back on the bed with a sigh. "Well, that was fun. Stay here tonight."
Standing up, Spock comes to a stop at the foot of the bed, mouth twitching. "We should discuss--"
"I know, I know, there's this huge relationship talk coming with how to avoid favoritism and whatever, later." Lifting one leg, Jim hooks it around Spock's knee. "Tomorrow. We're still on leave and I want to have sex. Any objections?"
Jim pushes his heel into the back of Spock's knee hard; Spock catches himself with one hand, looking down into pleased blue eyes, smiling despite himself. "You realize you will not be able utilize sex as a means of distraction in every disagreement?"
"Nah," Jim breathes, lips brushing Spock's, mind opening at the first heated touch. "That'd be cheating." Jim smiles into the kiss, tongue brushing over his lower lip teasingly. Just the ones I want to win.