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Only the Ring Finger Knows

Chapter Text

James T. Kirk, a command track cadet with a growing reputation at Starfleet Academy for being headstrong and charismatic. Spock overheard a few statements concerning his person in the last few months. A ‘nerd’, as some would state, but also a ‘hottie’ to others. To clarify, it seemed that he was renown for his attractive appearance as well as his studious nature. What Spock found more interesting was that he was bound for an early captaincy; atypical per Starfleet's protocol. It is almost unheard of to become a Starship Captain before the age of 30. Experience had to be gained and earned. Despite what Spock thought of this rumor, his peers were more concerned with his latest romances. Many lamented them.

"I am ze most unlucky of them all!" the young man cried, accent thick and downing a third of glass of vodka. "Another beautiful woman in the throws of James Kirk!" Spock remained silent, watching cautiously as his peer intoxicated himself over his emotional qualms. It was an interesting behaviour that apparently many humans shared. His presence was also something that he'd been told was just as significant; the ‘friend’ to drink with while they vocalized their objections. Vulcans were not intoxicated by alcohol and the flavor was detestable, but he drank anyway to appease cadet Chekov. In small sips.

"He has only just arrived this semester and he is already surpassed my level!" Chekov continued, huffing like a child.

"He is dedicated and eager to attain his role on a starship-"

"So am I!" Chekov interrupted, looking affronted.

"Yes, you are eager, but are also an intellectual that enjoys deviating his attentions to sciences and engineering. While command track does cover these on a basic level, you deem it necessary to investigate further, delaying your advancement by taking extra classes rather than taking exams to complete the courses earlier."

"It is important to be prepared, no? And if I wanted to get on a starship faster, I could branch to navigation!" Spock already knew this and realized that Chekov was insecure about making decisions. This was something every captain should excel in. Even so, certainty one's actions came with experience over time, not racing into danger. He was still young.

"Ack! I can't believe him! Chasing the stars and dragging my beautiful Anna with him!" Spock frowned. He had never met Cadet Kirk in person, thus did not wish to think ill of him. Cadet Chekov was certainly exaggerating his plights.

"And I bought these matching rings for nothing…" the cadet huffed, looking down at his palm where two metal rings lay. They were of different widths, but matching designs. Spock barely kept the surprise from his face as he spoke.

"You wished to marry this woman?" Spock had only been on Earth for 18 months. While he knew enough from his mother, there were a considerable number of things that he found baffling. Bearing rings, especially a set or pair, represented a married couple for humans of many cultures. His mother had embraced Vulcan norms and had never worn one.

"What? Oh! No! Well… maybe… But it is not like that! It is just a thing…” Pavel struggled to explain. “Everyone here knows about this... I did not realize… no one has told you." Spock continued to stare at the rings, his gaze flickering down at his own hand. The ring he wore had no such significance. Wearing his accessory was merely his way of adapting to human culture.

Had he been doing something wrong by wearing this? He fretted internally before Pavel continued.

"We wear matching rings to show our relationship status. Right ring fingers show a close friendship, right middle finger if you are single, and left ring finger signifies a couple!" The man was obviously charmed by the idea. “It is a known habit of the school. I have heard that it is meant to help us feel grounded when we are destined for space.”

Spock nodded. His ring certainly made him feel more connected to this place. Although, it was a fair bit awkward to know that he had been unintentionally sending a message about his romantic interests to his peers. Many students wore rings at the academy. He had assumed it was a regular affair, a trend or a common accessory. It would seem that it was more significant than a fashion statement. Although less so than a marriage.

"You wear a ring,” Chekov pointed out. “It is the proper position for someone who is single and it is the same one for as long as I have known you. I bet the whole school thinks you are either single or have unrequited love…” Chekov grinned over his glass.

Spock made no remark. Surely the ‘entire school’ did not care for his affairs. If anyone had thought such things about him because of the ring he wore, he could only be content with the fact that they had noticed him participating in a human custom. Now he thought it might have been an error on his part. Suddenly the way he had obtained the ring seemed to make more sense.

The man’s head lolled to the side pensively. “Well I heard someone say you were probably engaged…" Chekov put the glass down gently on the table. "I admit to some confusion Mr. Spock. It is a Vulcan custom to be engaged early in your life, but I believe it is only a human tradition to wear rings as a symbol of marital status, no?"

Spock hesitated for a moment. He did not like discussing his personal life. Humans commonly enjoyed sharing their own life stories and Spock would listen avidly. He answered Pavel’s inquires carefully.

"This is true, and while I was raised in the Vulcan way, I have accepted that I will be surrounded by humans for the rest of my career. I accept your customs, but this ring was given to me quite… randomly." Spock thought back to that particular moment. "I was given this ring on a tour of the Enterprise. The cadet looked quite harried upon giving it to me and left rather quickly.”

Chekov leaned in with interest as Spock came up with a theory.

“It not unlikely that someone had rejected his proposition of romantic interest. Perhaps he had been turned away as you have been-" Spock snapped his mouth shut, realizing his error too late. Chekov gave a weak whine, deflating instantly. He took another swig of alcohol.

Spock looked down again at his ring while his companion downed a few gulps. He admitted that if he'd worn this on Vulcan, it would be viewed as perverse. No Vulcan wore jewelry on their hands unless it was for a ceremony. A material possession with emotional attachment, rubbing against his sensitive skin, only inches from his finger pads? He'd be a disgrace!

"You are not suffering of unrequited love as I am! My beautiful Anna! Spock, you have been spared this cruelty! Anna and I would be staring lovingly into each others eyes by now… Damn that James Kirk!"

Spock just raised his brow at the man.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Spock sat diligently at his desk. It was his simplest class and yet he could not retain anything with the head-ache he woke up with that morning. He always recorded the notes for later review, but at the moment, he needed to physically take notes on his tablet in order to concentrate. Fractal Calculus was usually revisionary for him, but now it seemed that he could not keep up. He theorized that the little alcohol he had ingested with Pavel the night prior had something to do with it. Alcohol may not have inebriated him, but it certainly gave his vulcan physique the ailments thereafter.

When the class concluded, the students began to move towards the door. Spock tapped in a few more notes on his pad, stalling himself from walking amongst the crowd. On days like this, it was much more difficult to deal with so many beings.

"Are you alright, Mr. Spock?" Cadet Chekov asked rather loudly. By the looks of it, the human had been drinking water last night.

"I am fine-"

"If you need to go to the infirmary, I will gladly accompany you!" He volunteered cheerfully. Spock stood slowly.

"No, I will recover shortly," Spock told him, walking with him to the exit.

"Okay, see you later!" He smiled, and to Spock’s relief, went on ahead. Pavel waved as he ran out into the hall, heading for the cafeteria with the energy of a playful sehlat pup. Spock turned towards the washrooms with much less enthusiasm. He needed a quiet space to recuperate before Biochemistry.

Once there, he was greeted with merciful silence. He breathed a calming breath and went to the sink. He set his bag down on the bench and unzipped his affronting red cadet jacket. He hung it on the hook by the mirror, pulled up the sleeves of his thermal black shirt and removed his ring. He proceeded to turning on the tap, the sound of running water filling the room. He pooled water into his hands and realized what ailed him so.

He was thirsty. He was dehydrated. Such a simple thing to remember.

Feeling foolish, he took out his empty bottle and filled it. He took a substantial mouthful, then set it aside. He put his hands under the tap again, leaned in and splashed his face. It was cold and smelled mildly chlorinated, but it was still soothing. He repeated this action again, the water on the surface of his skin already warm. It was refreshing and he felt his mind easing into a meditative state. He inhaled as his cupped hands filled with water and slowly exhaled as the water hit his face. He repeated this action again. Cup water, inhale, splash, exhale.

He splashed again, but a small gasp from a newcomer caught his attention. He'd splashed the red clad cadet beside him.

"Oh, forgive me," he said quickly, turning off the tap and rising to full height. His bangs were soaked and dripping water into his eyes. He rubbed some droplets away in time to see an offered hand towel.

"It's alright. I barely got wet," the man assured gently. Surprised, Spock accepted it.

"Thank-you." He dabbed his face, smelling the clean terry cloth that had a lingering scent of cologne. He looked up to see a pair of striking hazel-green eyes and blond hair. The young man in cadet uniform smiled at him, gentle at first, then mischievously. Spock thought he might laugh.

"Your name is Spack, right?" he asked with a suspicious chuckle.

"Spock," he corrected, turning his gaze to the mirror to make sure his hair was not out of place. He could still see the man staring at him in the reflection as he flattened down his bangs and set his brows straight again. He was relieved to not be wearing his liner or it would have surely made a mess. His fatigue had interrupted his morning routine.

"Right, I've heard about you. First vulcan to attend Starfleet Academy," he stated.

While that fact was correct, Spock did not deem it necessary to concur aloud.

"I've never met a vulcan before. Do they date?" he chuckled now, leaning on the counter's edge, looking confidently at him in the mirror.

"We are a race thousands of years older than humans," Spock responded, sensing that this cadet was teasing him, but to what end? The man laughed softly, his eyes glowing and warming his appearance.

"And funny too," he sighed, sounding defeated despite his words. Spock raised a brow and the cadet's lips broke into a warmer smile. "Adorable."

Spock frowned, showing his displeasure as clearly to the man as he'd allow.

"If you'll excuse me," Spock said, pulling down his sleeves. He packed his bottle into his bag, slinging it over one shoulder, then grabbing his jacket. The cadet stopped him from exiting, a hand on his upper arm, luckily covered by his black thermal. Spock looked the man dead in the eye and firmly took his arm back. The cadet put his hands up in surrender.

"Alright, I see. No sweet talk. No touching," the man shrugged, taking his towel back from the counter. Spock took a last step back to grab his ring from the sink. The cadet willfully did not move aside. Their cheeks almost touched as Spock got a hold of his ring. The man was hyper focused on him as he drew away. They stood there, stock still, evaluating one another.

Whoever this cadet was, Spock found it disquieting how captivating his eyes were. He found them intimidating. But why? Over-all, he was 5 centimeters shorter than himself, his human strength would be no match for his and his body language showed no sign of aggression.

It wasn’t his form, Spock realized, but his mind. Spock could feel him. His intellect and will power. They were not in physical contact, but Spock could still sense it even subtly.

Spock made a quick retreat.

***

Spock sat through the lecture and tried to ignore the thoughts about his encounter with the blond cadet. His headache was dissipating, but he felt that nothing short of a healthy meal and proper rest would help him recover. He took sips of his water every five minutes and took his notes vigorously until the class was on a short break.

He picked up the ring from his desk and stared down at it.

He hadn’t taken the time to put it back on until then. Retrieving it had disturbed him. The cadet reminded him of the vulcan children who flaunted their higher intellect. They would openly mock him, and yet, the cadet’s commentary held no malice. Was this how humans persecuted each other?

This was not the time to think too much on the matter. He slipped his ring back on, intent on focusing on his class.

But the ring didn’t fit.

He looked at the hoop with some confusion. The width was clearly too small for his finger. Spock didn’t know what to think. The design was the same and it wasn’t dramatically different in size. Spock could not get it passed his knuckle. Perhaps his fingers had swollen? But no, his hands were chilled; far from swelling. Then… his ring had shrunk?

The teacher was making additional notes on the board, thus, Spock set aside the ring and continued to take them.

When his peers returned, they took a moment to catch up with the notes while Spock was discreetly trying to fit the ring on any of his fingers. It was an odd situation, but he still wished to keep the ring. He slipped it onto his ring finger, but it was too loose. His left hand perhaps? He tried the left ring finger.

It fit.

He did not like the implications that Chekov had informed him of yesterday about this position, but perhaps it had its advantages. Any student would see it and think he was engaged or with someone, thus not approaching him in a romantic way. That had occurred twice since his arrival at Starfleet Academy. His tact in turning them down was lacking, but it had taken him by surprise that anyone would desire him as a romantic partner. Especially coming from a human.

Then again, it would not be the first time that others found him exotic. And despite Starfleet’s inclusion of other species, the majority of the student body were humans. Spock had known the numbers, and yet, this was what he had chosen. It was still better than the Vulcan Science Academy.

His focus returned to the class lecture as the instructions for a cold fusion device was being assigned.

He received the information to his pad, and rose with the class as they were dismissed. Eager to get started on this assignment, Spock pushed his agenda to start on it right away. Well, after taking care of his health. The ache in his head was still prominent.

The room was half emptied before he lifted his head and neared the exit.

"Mr. Spock," the blonde cadet said sharply from just a foot away. Spock stood straighter if only to have more distance between them without taking a step back. The young man did not have the same warmth in his eyes as earlier. He looked serious and assertive. His body language was different too, a distinct change from his lax posture leaning on the washroom counter.

"Yes?" Spock replied, aware of his peers staring in their direction. He didn't look at them.

"Hold out your hand," he ordered. Spock leered at him. Was this man about to play a prank on him? He raised his mental shields. He did not wish to be made a fool of, especially not in front of his peers who may or may not know of the sensitivity of his hands. Despite this, he obeyed the order.

The cadet dropped a ring into his palm, not even grazing his skin.

"It's yours isn't it?" he asked. Spock looked at it carefully. It was silver with a gold center, just like his own."We must have switched it by the sink earlier. You took mine. A simple mistake, I understand," he said.

Spock's lips parted. Surprised, but more so embarrassed that he had ridiculously thought that it had shrunk.

"You have the same ring as I," he confirmed, putting the ring beside the one he was wearing. Spock now noticed that the one he currently wore had a few more scratches and tarnish than his own.

"You're wearing it on your left ring finger?" the cadet gaped, giving his hand a calculated stare. Spock removed the ring.

"It was the only finger that fit. I was otherwise preoccupied with class," Spock explained returning the ring to the cadet who only just managed to open him palm for it. The blond slipped it onto his right middle finger and gave a sad chuckle as he stared down at it.

"Ironically, your ring only fit my left ring finger, too."

Spock blinked, acknowledging what their peers might conclude had they continued to wear their rings thusly. The cadet sighed and put his hands behind his back. "Wouldn't want to start a rumor now would we?" Spock sensed that the cadet wanted that comment to be teasing, but it fell flat.

"Indeed," Spock nodded once. He stood in silence until the cadet looked at him with that soft smile that warmed his demeanour.

"You must be fond of that ring to be wearing it. I've never heard of a vulcan wearing one," he said conversationally, but turning to leave. Spock opened his mouth to respond, but thought better of it as the cadet made his exit. He clamped his jaw shut and looked down at the ring in his hand. He slipped it back onto his right middle finger.

"Spock!" a young blond woman bounced over to him, her wide eyes batting. "Where did you get that ring?"

"Pardon?"

"Oh yes, please tell us!" another added from his left. She was a short haired brunette with a freckled nose.

"Whatever for?" he looked between them and saw that a small group and formed around him, looking at him eagerly.

"It matches Jim's! I want the same one! You have to tell us!" another urged. Spock frowned at this childish nonsense.

"It was given to me without cause. I know neither the one who gave it to me, nor where they purchased it," he replied calmly.

“Are you serious?” the brunette gasped. “How can you not know who gave it to you?”

“Yeah? Why would you wear it?”

“Sounds fishy to me,”

“Vulcans do not lie,” Spock assured them.

“I thought you might have gotten it on Vulcan,” one shy voice behind them said.

“No way! Vulcans don’t wear jewelry!”

“That’s kind of prejudice-” her friend began, but was cut off.

“So then you’re seeing a human!”

“I am not in a romantic relationship at this time-”

“Oh, so why wear it?”

“Yeah, just give it to me!”

“Sarah!” the girl gasped, smacking her friend’s arm.

“Please excuse me. I have an assignment to work on,” Spock stated, making a hasty escape. He heard the women squabbling between each other until he was well within the crowded hall.

Much to Spock’s dismay, this was only the beginning.

Chapter Text

A week went by and Spock was fighting frustration. 36 individuals had approached him over this span of time inquiring about the ring. He had narrowed down his explanation to "I do not know" in order to keep his interactions brief.

"You are popular with the ladies recently," Chekov commented as he sat beside him for lunch. The ‘picnic’ table just outside their dorms was the perfect spot on a warm sunny day. Spock enjoyed the rays more than he'd admit to anyone. San Francisco was typically cloudy on most days.

"I would not phrase it so. They are displeased with me," Spock explained before taking a fork full of 'spring lettuce' mixed with chopped cucumber and green peppers. Spock still found the flavours odd compared to the ones his mother grew in her garden on Vulcan. The water and soil changed the resulting flavour quite effectively.

"Displeased? What is this about?" the young man asked, looking concerned as he laid out his lunch container.

"They inquire as to where I have purchased or acquired my ring. The reason being that they wish to have the same one, for it is identical to their romantic interest," Spock said. Spock found the whole situation quite immature, but he was still somewhat fascinated that so many women desired this one man. Or perhaps it was simply to fulfill their romantic fantasies. And those were only those that dared to ask. Spock could only estimate the actual numbers, but did not want to give into such a pointless endeavor.

"Then, you are saying that another man has the same ring as you?" Chekov began to eat his chickpea salad. "You have met him?"

"Yes," Spock said sharply. "Briefly."

"What is his name? What does he look like?" The man inquired, hand under his chin, looking at him with great interest and excitement. It was curious to the vulcan, how much gossip and idle conversation humans enjoyed. Perhaps he enjoyed it more than being briefly scorned and ignored by his peers back home. Spock thought back on the moment he'd met the man in question and when he'd returned his ring.

"He is a blond with hazel eyes. He wore a command track badge, and the women called him 'Jim'. I would approximate his height to be 5'10" and a weight of approximately 170 pounds-"

"Jim Kirk?!" Chekov gasped, standing over him now with his palms on the table. He was closer than Spock would prefer. "You are talking about Jim Kirk! He has the same ring as you?"

Spock quickly scanned the area with his eyes, something Chekov understood to be a warning that he was speaking quite loudly. He sat himself down, but fidgeted in his seat.

"Well does he?"

"I would not lie," Spock reminded. "Do you know him?"

"Know him? Spock I have told you about him a week ago. Do you not recall my heartbreak?" Chekov looked ready to pull out a bottle of vodka from his backpack despite the unlikely event that he would be carrying around such a thing in the middle of the academic day.

"Ah, James Kirk. Are they related?" Spock drank some water, filtering out the strange flavours of the earth salad.

"He is the same man. ‘Jim’ is a surname for ‘James’." Chekov waited for Spock to file that away into his human culture file cabinet. "And you have identical rings? But then, did Anna ask you as well?"

"No, she has not approached me on the matter."

"Good! Please do not tell her where you got it!"

"I have explained before, I did not purchase it. It was given to me by a cadet aboard the Enterprise. I did not see his face and so I cannot easily deduce the owner."

"But you could if you wanted to. Checking the ship's logs, no?"

"Perhaps…"

"Why keep such a thing if it was given to you at random? I would think it was more important to you," Chekov took an angry bite of his sandwich.

"I did not care for it at first. I kept it in my pocket for the duration of the trip and when the time came to return the uniforms for recycling, I had forgotten its existence. But the object somehow made it back into my possession. I have worn it on my hand for approximately 3.4 months since,"

“That is both ominous and peculiar,” Pavel commented. Spock raised his brow and his friend just shook his head. “It is different." He sighed and changed demeanor to one of pleasantry. "Do not worry, Mr. Spock. They will give up eventually!"

***

At his dorm one evening, Nyota Uhura came to him. She was a beautiful dark skinned human who always adorned earrings. He'd counted 5 pairs in which she favoured.

"Mr. Spock, may I come in?" she asked politely. He gave a courteous nod and let her enter. He noticed she carried a festively wrapped box and made no effort to conceal it. "I have a favour to ask you."

"I will do my best to accommodate your request, but I what is it?"

"I've heard you've met Jim Kirk," she began with a little smirk. Spock could not contain the loud exhaled that may have sounded like a sigh. He had not expected Nyota to have an interest in Jim Kirk, his disappointment was clear.

"I do not know where one would purchase the ring he wears, nor do I know whom-" he recited, but Nyota giggled in good spirit, waving off his speech.

"No, no, no! I'm not interested in Kirk," she assured. Spock turned his attention back to her. "But my friend Gaila is." Spock sat on his single bed and offered Nyota the desk chair.

"I am sure you understand that I cannot divulge information I do not have. Thus, I assume your request has little to do with a ring, but more to do with the package you hold," Spock said, stippling his fingertips together.

"Bingo!" she smiled, Spock recalling this term to mean that he was correct. "I need you to deliver it to Kirk for her."

"Whatever for?" Spock raised a brow.

"Well, for one, it's for his birthday, secondly, he'll get the wrong impression if I do it, thirdly, Gaila's green and doesn't want to make the wrong impression by spraying him with pheromones on a first interaction," she replied, raising her delicate fingers to count them off.

"Your friend Gaila is an Orion? And she desires him for a mate?" Spock was unfamiliar with Orion courting rituals, but from what little he knew, her careful approach was uncommon, especially if the Orion desired a partner for one evening of intercourse.

"She left a note in the box for him to contact her with," Nyota added.

"And what if Kirk refuses the gift?"

"Well since it's not from you, he'll have to take it and contact Gaila to tell her himself," she shrugged.

"I do not believe he would go to such lengths."

"Actually I've heard he's quite the charmer, even when he's breaking hearts. Not too many guys would apologize and say sorry for turning them down. It's stressful and for that, I say he can't be all bad," she laughed. "You understand right?"

"I believe so..." Spock said, uncertain if he was lying or his recollection of romantic films were supplying him with some kind of empathy.

"So, will you do it?" she urged, standing up squarely in front of him. Spock glanced at the package on his desk, then back at Nyota. "I'll treat you to the bistro down the road next week if you do," she promised. He waited 5 seconds to feign contemplation.

"Very well," Spock agreed, feeling the tension in his shoulders release. Nyota clapped her hands together, smiling.

"Yes! Thank-you, Spock!"

***

It took some research to find the cadet's schedule. A quick breach of the Academy's security solved the trouble. It also piqued his interest that it had been so simple, thus he messaged the Academy to offer his services should they require a programmer. He feared no repercussions since he’d also found no tracing software in said security.

When he did look at the cadet's schedule, it perplexed him. Kirk had fit classes into his week from morning until evening. He routinely had a half hour lunch and supper break, but otherwise, from Monday through Friday, the man was booked. Spock did not intend to walk into his class times, nor was he particularly pleased with the notion that he might have to make a dorm room visit after hours. His own schedule conflicted with his as well. His week was just as occupied. He was Vulcan after-all. Vulcans were educated at a faster and more advanced rate than any species the Federation had ever encountered.

He debated for a moment if he should ask someone else to deliver the package, but he came up short when he realized how many people he knew well enough to trust with such a thing. Chekov would likely refuse. Mr. Sulu seemed trustworthy enough, but his closeness with Chekov would likely result in a similar result. Anyone else in the command track classes he was familiar with were women and were also unlikely to volunteer.

Decidedly, he would have to use his lunch hour to make the delivery. It was not the day of the cadet's birth, but he was told to deliver it promptly. Their scheduled classes were vastly distant from one another though. He could not hope to catch the man before he vanished into the crowd. He would need to ask his contacts to know where he usually ate his meals.

Chekov caught him in different locations all the time. Having been trying to avoid the man, he found himself being in the same place occasionally. He assumed that he didn't want to be predictable in light of his popularity. He ate with different people all the time. Except one, a medical cadet a decade older than most of the students, Leonard McCoy.

A medical cadet's schedule was equally as busy as their own. Another security bypass had gotten him the cadet's profile. No message from the school had replied to his message as of yet. Spock returned his attention to the task at hand. He had a guess as to how the two cadets chose a place to eat. The distance between their classes would be a good place to start. The school's lower atrium cafeteria in building B would be the most obvious location for their meeting tomorrow. McCoy had laboratory work in that building and Kirk had field training in the stadium next-door.

He put the gift into a shopping bag to avoid it attracting attention as he carried it from class to class. He had biological engineering in the same building as McCoy only 4 levels above. He was certain he could possibly track this cadet to find Kirk.

He made haste to leave the class and find his way down to the cafeteria, putting his pad away into his bag as he walked through the crowds. He arrived to a plethora of cadets all in red jackets or black shirts. Spock closed his eyes for a moment, finding his focus against the many surrounding him. When he opened them again, ready to seek out the blond or perhaps a glimpse of the square shouldered medic, his ears picked up one voice amongst the many. It was soft and polite, then apologetic. Spock turned his head, just to peak over his shoulder. There, just out of sight of the crowd was Jim and blond haired woman with blue eyes. It was Anna, Chekov's romantic interest.

"Jim, please, just one date," she urged, sounding somewhat tearful. Spock thought it rather pathetic. No. He had no right to judge her. He would not think so unkindly of someone he did not know. He would allow her the right to feel. She was human.

"Anna, if I dated you, I'd be yours completely," Jim confessed. "To explore the universe, I can't be… tied down. I've already made up my mind. I'm going to be a captain. I'll be in command of a ship of my own, hundreds of crewmen aboard her with adventure in their hearts."

"And none of that can have me by your side?" she breathed, her head hanging down.

"Your place will be your own, not because you followed mine." They were quiet, but neither seemed aware of his presence. Then finally, Jim had the last word. "I'm sorry, Anna."

The woman nodded to him before taking a brisk pace off down the hall. Spock estimated the odds that she was headed to the washrooms.

"Are you picking up pointers, Mr. Spock?" Jim asked, stepping into his personal space. Spock took a step back to better look him in the eye. He looked quite peeved.

"No, but I am impressed with your delicacy in regards to the situation," the Vulcan replied. He refrained from mentioning that he thought it overly poetic. Kirk's eyes shifted, the greens warming to hazel as he stared at him.

"I'll take that as a compliment," he smiled. His demeanour had changed so quickly. "I get that a lot so I've had time to rehearse."

"So I have heard," Spock admitted.

"Oh? Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. Don't you know that?" he chuckled. Spock was not certain if he was being teased or scolded. It was likely both. "Anyway, were you here just to spy on my love life?"

"No, I had-"

"Jim, you ready to eat? Time's a wastin’!" came McCoy's southern drawl. Spock turned to see the cadet removing his jacket with some aggression.

"You betcha!" Jim chuckled, a playful boyish grin overtaking his face. Humans were so expressive with their emotions. This Jim Kirk seemed to master them for both his own self confidence and external expectations. He had gone from sympathetic, guarded, pleasant to jovial in under one minute. This came across as somewhat manipulative to Spock who knew only how to suppress himself. "Go get me a chicken sandwich and I'll be right there!"

"Making me pay again? You better watch yourself, kid," he threatened. Jim slapped his shoulder in camaraderie before the older cadet made his way to the line-up.

"Sorry, you were saying?" Jim's face returned to one of calm, but pleasant control.

"Indeed, I-"

"Oh! Uh- Let's take this into the staircase," Jim urged, bolting to the doors leading to an unused staircase without waiting to see if the Vulcan would follow. Spock did, glancing around himself and realizing that quite a few cadets had come in, some of which were the women seeking to romance the cadet. It was quiet in the staircase, but Jim was headed up to the roof.

"Mr. Kirk, you will be making your peer wait for you for lunch," Spock said as he made haste to keep up.

"Ha, better than Ben Finnegan taking my book bag and having me play 'monkey in the middle'!" Spock did not understand, but continued his ascent. The roof was vacant of cadets and the air was fresh. He would remember to come here to have lunch next time.

"So, you had something to tell me?" Kirk asked after inhaling the air here.

"Yes," Spock began, taking the bag off his shoulder and holding it out to him. Kirk looked at the bag in surprise, then flicked his gaze up to Spock's as he took the straps. He pulled them apart and looked inside to see the gift.

"Well then, you come bearing gifts now?" Kirk was teasing him again. "Am I supposed to deliver this to someone?"

"No, it is for your birthday," Spock clarified. Suddenly Kirk's face turned pink. He looked down in awe at the package inside the bag, the most honest look the Vulcan had yet to see on the man's face. Spock had not thought it would be such a surprise to receive gifts, but the human was unable to grasp an emotion to settle on.

"There is a letter inside," Spock informed.

"Oh? And uh… what does it say?" Kirk stammered.

"I believe I will leave it for you to discover," Spock replied, decidedly being discreet for the Orion woman. Suddenly as Kirk was searching for his words, Spock realised his error. "I am not the one who has purchased this gift. I am simply the 'gift bearer' as you have stated."

Kirk's face finally stilled into careful neutral.

"I was asked to give this to you from a friend of a friend. She wished to approach you more discreetly about her romantic intent," Spock explained further.

"I get it…" Kirk nodded, but kept his gaze down at the gift. "Do you- Do you know when my birthday is?"

"March 22," Spock replied too readily. Kirk got that smirk on his face again.

"Bingo!" Kirk closed the bag and held it in one hand. "You wasted your lunch hour just to deliver this? I didn't know you were so easily manipulated." He was stern now, the commanding presence that has appeared in the classroom to return his ring. He stood closer, tilting his head up in order to keep eye contact.

"It was a favour to a friend, Mr. Kirk," Spock defended.

"Oh? 'Mr. Kirk'? Why so formal?” He asked with a hollow chuckle. “Why don't you call me Jim like everyone else?"

Spock was admittedly confused, but said nothing. He wondered where any of this conversation was going.

Kirk stepped closer. Perhaps too close. He still smelled lightly of cologne and like last time, their cheeks brushed. This time, Spock stood very still as Kirk whispered in his ear. "Spock."

The way he'd said his name made his body frisson.

Kirk drew away, pressing the bag back to him. "Well then, gotta go." Spock just managed to catch the straps and held the bag in confusion.

"You are not accepting the gift? Is that not disrespectful?"

"Normally, you'd be right, because I'm a gentleman, but I'm sure you can handle it. Return to sender." Kirk turned back towards the door. Shocked by this turn of events, Spock felt compelled to question further.

"Have I said something of offence to you?" Spock tried again. The human gave a frustrated sigh and looked at him with vicious green eyes.

"Tell me, who told you to give that to me, and I'll reconsider accepting it," Kirk offered. Spock did not want to tell this man about Gaila or Uhura, but…

"Ms. Uhura has asked this of me because it is an Orion woman that wishes for you to know her true intentions," Spock informed, keeping Gaila's name in discretion.

"Uhura?" Kirk's lips twitched into a grin. "And this Orion woman wouldn't happen to be Gaila, now would it?" Spock said nothing. Kirk either knew one or both better than he'd assumed, or he was using the only knowledge he had of these women to get Spock to give him more.

"Maybe Uhura's the one giving this to me. What kind of Orion doesn't approach someone they deem attractive by just walking up to them? Especially Gaila," Kirk was shaking his head, as if Spock was being toyed with.

"Nyota would not- she does not desire you," he corrected.

"Oh, so it's 'Nyota' with her?" Spock realized his error.

"You should accept the gift." Spock's voice was firm now. He held out the bag. Kirk's eyes sparked as he stepped into his personal space again.

"Call me Captain and we'll be on our way," he challenged. Spock frowned, but accepted.

"Captain,"

Kirk stood still, eyes fixed on his shoulder. He did not look pleased.

"Come on, we're gonna be late for class," he said, making his way back to the stairwell at a brisk pace. Spock stood there still holding the bag in a clenched hand. The Cadet was gone and Spock felt chilled alone on the rooftop.

Chapter Text

"What happened?" Nyota exclaimed upon seeing him at her door with the bag in hand.

"He refused it. I apologize," he bowed his head. She stepped back into her dorm room, letting Spock in before closing the door.

"Oh, Gaila is going to be heartbroken!" She hissed, biting down on her thumbnail.

Spock was feeling contrite, but he was not certain that it was for Gaila or even Nyota. Kirk had left him puzzled. His peers thought of him one way, but truly, or perhaps just in front of Spock, he acted in another. He felt certain that he had failed some form of human interaction. Perhaps he would avoid Kirk from this point on.

She sighed and gave him an understanding look.

"So what happened?" She sat on her single bed, a deep purple that matched her desk supplies and curtains hiding the Academy's standard blinds. "I thought this Jim Kirk was supposed to be a gentleman. Guess not so much with men, or maybe vulcans." Her dark eyes looked him over. "Sit."

Spock complied, sitting in the desk chair with capacious cushioning.

"So, tell me," she said gently. Spock retold her of his finding Jim with another woman, their moving to the roof, then the conversation that followed. Nyota's face was contemplative.

"Well Spock, I'd say he either really hates you, or really likes you," she said, straightening her back and tucking her feet under.

"I fail to see how you would come to the latter conclusion," Spock told her.

"From what I gathered, he changes his game a lot. Maybe it's to see how you react? He doesn't know how to read you, you know?"

"No, I do not," he admitted. Although curious to understand the situation, it was simpler to ignore the cadet and focus on his studies once more. "What will we do for Gaila?"

"Oh, well I guess I'll have to tell her that he refused. Maybe it'll tarnish his reputation a little," she smirked, looking mischievous.

Spock stood, prepared to take his leave when the door swung open with great force. Gaila came charging in, her vibrant red hair flying behind her.

"Nyota!" she cried, jumping onto the human who luckily had a plush bed to soften the impact. The woman was crying, but her face indicated joy. "Nyota! He came to see me! Little Jimmy Kirk came to me!"

"Uh, that's great," Nyota chuckled as the orion pulled away, now on all fours above Nyota. "Jim asked you out?"

"No, no! He turned me down!" she laughed.

"Then what-"

"He came to me like such a gentleman. He gave me this little flower and apologized that he couldn't accept my gift. He was so cute! I’m dying!" She exclaimed then melted into a sigh, flopping over onto her back with a huge grin on her face. She stared at the ceiling in excitement, then her eyes flickered over to Spock. She sat up gasping.

"Forgive my intrusion," he said automatically.

"Spock, isn't it?" she asked, a mischievous glint in her eye.

"Leave him be, Gaila," Nyota swatted at her roommate. Spock raised a brow, but decided it was best he take his leave.

"I bid thee good evening," he said, giving a short bow of her head before exiting the door that had yet to be closed after Gaila's entrance.

"Thank-you, Spock," Nyota smiled softly, rising to see him out. "I'll see you Thursday for lunch, okay?"

Spock blinked, pleasantly realizing that Nyota would still treat him to that bistro lunch despite his failure to deliver the gift.

"Very well," he replied, looking at her with ease. "Communicate with me at your leisure."

***

An evening of research awaited Spock in the Academy's library. Spock had received the confirmation message from the Dean of Technological Programming. He was to prepare a simulator for educational purposes similar to the pods that Vulcans had in their early stages of development combined with Earth's Holodeck programs. It was a simple challenge to prove himself efficient enough to take up a teaching position, as well as offer aid in the Academy's defences and security.

Thus, he made his way to one of the lesser browsed areas of the building, the shelves lined with tape disks and books, neatly divided by type and date. Barely a whisper was heard, and there was only the faint scent of fresh carpet and aged paper. It was a pleasing area that calmed his mind.

He found a computer, quickly searching for the tapes that he required. He memorized the isle and grouping, then made his way down the vacant rows. As he found what he sought, he realized that he would need a step ladder to reach the file disks. He stepped back out of the isle, but there didn't seem to be one in the area. Looking back again, he could attempt to climb the shelving. It was but a few inches out of reach and the shelf unit would not be unbalanced by his weight. He stood looking up at his goal, quickly glanced around in case someone should see him, then took a careful step up. He held the shelf he sought the tape from, but suddenly felt the metal beneath his foot sink. Spock grasped the shelf too hard, crippling the meta. He instinctively released it from further damage and fell backwards.

"Woah!" came a familiar voice by his right ear. That someone caught him just before his head made contact with the other shelving unit. "Hey genius, you ever hear of a step ladder?" he gasped under his weight. It was Kirk, of course.

Spock regained his balance and footing on the carpet. Kirk was a pillar of strength. Spock withdrew his hands and took a step back from him.

"Kirk, what are you doing here?" Spock asked.

"I should ask you the same. I've never seen a vulcan scale a bookshelf before," he remarked.

"Thank-you," Spock said simply, kneeling to gather the fallen tapes. He looked to Kirk who was catching his breath, then back to the shelving unit he'd damaged. Had he come running?

"You're welcome," Kirk huffed, putting his hands on his hips. "Now what gives?"

"The bookshelf's structure under my weight, clearly," Spock sighed, contemplating how he would reimburse the school for the damages. Kirk just stared at him for a moment, then laughed softly through his hand. Spock raised a brow. Another enigma to Kirk's profile.

"No, no, it's nothing. What tape did you want?" he asked. Spock looked at the man, then told him the title and code. Kirk walked to the end of the isle and pulled out a folding stool from the slot behind the computer console. "Allow me," he offered, setting it up and getting the tapes for him. His fingers grazed over the titles and the glint of the ring caught Spock's eye.

"May I ask you something, Mr. Kirk?" Spock began, but quickly followed his query by another before he could be interrupted. "You did not accept the gift, yet you sought out Gaila to refuse her in person. I do not understand the purpose of addressing her romantic interest when you could have simply ignored it."

Kirk stepped down, but not completely, just so he could be at eye level with Spock who was four inches taller.

"I'm a gentleman, Mr. Spock," he grinned. "Didn't you know?"

Spock accepted the tapes from the cadet, deciding that Kirk would do nothing but confuse him further.

"Are you planning to program your own holodeck?" Kirk asked, having glanced at the tapes.

"Not directly. It is a project I have undertaken, to combine Vulcan and Earth's technological programming for simulations." Spock answered, then looked at the cadet picking another tape he had not asked for.

"Sounds fun," he said in an almost mocking tone and yet he could tell that Kirk was sincerely interested.

"You have experience programming holodecks," he surmised. Kirk shrugged and stood down.

"I don't have that kind of stuff in my hometown so I was really curious about it when I heard that they were working on using the system to test cadets."

"The Kabayashi Maru?" Spock guessed.

"That'd be the one. No one can become captain without passing that simulation. I've been dreading it since I got here."

"It is a test of character, is it not?" Kirk continued eyeing the shelves, but none held his gaze. "You hope to defeat the simulation that is unbeatable."

"You got it," Kirk grinned at him. More answers created more questions.

Spock must have been quiet for too long because Kirk gave him the commanding determined stare.

"I don't believe in no win scenarios." They stood facing one another in silence. Spock questioned for the first time if there were any chance that it could be done. Kirk was likely being over confident. This man was certainly living up to his reputation of being headstrong and charismatic. It almost made him believe it was possible.

"Perhaps." Spock said decidedly, appreciating the softness of Kirk's features and the way he evoked strength through his eyes. "I believe you will make the best decision when the time comes." Spock knew that the cadet did not need more boasting, but he wanted him to know that he felt optimistic in his presence. It worked, if Kirk's soft parted lips and warm hazel eyes were any indication.

"I'm honoured that you would think so," he replied, smiling genuinely now. "Come on, let's go see the desk about the damages."

***

It was a Friday evening and the Academy was busy. Competitive sports tournaments were taking place and it had amassed quite a crowd. He'd overheard the cadets talking about their excitement over the hand to hand combat starting off the competition. It did not particularly interest him.

"Did you hear? Jim Kirk is subbing for Mitchel!" came an energetic Gaila bouncing towards him. Spock raised a brow. Chekov, who'd been walking beside him back to the dorms, looked eager.

"Really? In combat?" the young man grinned. "I have got to see this!" He looked to Spock, awaiting a confirmation. Spock gathered that the man would go on without him, but admittedly was curious to see for himself how well Kirk would do as a substitute fighter.

Gaila and Chekov led the way, but held back to keep Spock within range as the crowds thickened. Gaila made way and found them a balcony spot. It was just in time to see Kirk being tossed to the mats. The man rolled and changed direction, getting back to his feet.

The red spandex the cadets wore for these sports covered only their lower halves. Spock could see their perspiration and the flushed areas of their skin from where he stood in the balcony stands. It was a primitive sport, but self defence training was absolutely necessary for all Starfleet personnel to have.

"He is flopping like a fish," Chekov awed. Spock was about to agree, but Kirk still had a few surprises for them. Kirk faltered to the side only to power punch his opponent in the ribs, knocking the wind out of the man. He tripped him and snapped his arms around the man's elbows, locking him in a face down position in the mats. The crowd roared and the referee gave him points. Kirk released the man, stepping back and placed himself back into position. For all the tumbling, he was unharmed. Short breathed perhaps, but definitely in a better state than his opponent with a bruise forming on his side.

"That was amazing!" Chekov gasped, cheering along with the crowd.

"I believed you disliked him," Spock pointed out.

"Rivals in love we may be, but I still think he is… vpechatlyayushchiy," Chekov said, unable to find another word. Spock was also at a loss for words. He watched Kirk take the second round in an instant, changing his tactics from evasive defence, to quick strikes. The crowd was shouting louder. Kirk had won the second round in under one minute. He fought like a professional, let alone a cadet. Spock could not quite see the man's expression from where he stood, but no doubt he wore his commanding confidence to face an opponent.

"Oh, he's brilliant!" Gaila gushed. "The school paper is going to have a field day with him!" Spock put his hand on the rail, noting the many cadets taking pictures with their phones. When he glanced back down to the fighters, Kirk was looking right at him. The man gave him such a sultry look that made Spock’s mind reel. Kirk was happy to show off in front of him. He could feel it as though he were standing right in front of him.

"He looked right at you!" Chekov gasped, the match beginning anew.

"Indeed," Spock replied, but kept his gaze on the combat. He was beginning to realize why this man was so very popular. It did not simply stem from his gallantry or his passions, but from whom he presented himself to be. Spock had long wished to present himself with such confident ease. It was as if Kirk was immune to insecurity and did what he pleased.

Of course, no one was immune to such things, but he could admire those that hid it so well. It was certainly something any vulcan strived for.

"Oh, he is leaving?" Chekov groaned. Spock blinked and focused on what the fighters were doing. Kirk was talking to the referee. He then proceeded to take his towel and leave the room.

"Did he get hurt?" Gaila wondered.

"I did not see him get hurt," Chekov frowned. Spock stepped away from the rail and made his way back downstairs, Chekov calling after him.

"I must leave," Spock said, making his way through the crowds again. He found his way to the exit where Kirk had left from. Spock held a quick pace as he entered the small sheltered garden area leading to a greenhouse. He looked around only once.

"Looking for me?" came Kirk's familiar voice. The man had the hand towel around his neck. "Somehow I knew you'd come after me."

"You appear unharmed," Spock noted. He knew he wasn’t, but he still wanted to be sure.

"It's too bad, you're missing Mitchel's comeback. He's quite the performer," Kirk tapped the towel over his flushed face again. Spock noticed that the ring was not present.

"You had not planned to stay long," Spock stated.

"What?"

"You planned to leave before the end. Did you not wish to win the combat?" Kirk turned his gaze away, looking out to the colourful garden being sheltered by the barrier from the chill of March. After a moment, he admitted his reason.

"I was bored." It was not what Spock had expected. It seemed arrogant of him to say such a thing. "It would have been annoying if I'd stayed,"

"Annoying?" Spock began.

"Well, no. What I mean is, I would be annoyed," the cadet ran his hand through his matted hair.

The final whistle blew and the crowd was cheering.

"Sounds like Gary won anyway," he smiled, taking a step back. Spock only just realized how close the cadet had been standing, the scent of him ebbing away. "What are the odds?"

"Approximately 909.8 to 1." Kirk looked surprised again, then smiled with childlike mirth.

"909.8 to 1?"

"Approximately," he confirmed, glancing once more to Kirk's right hand that had once again run through his hair like a nervous habit. “Did you participate for Mitchel to guarantee his win?”

“Hm, Gary can handle himself. He just didn’t want to throw in the towel because his exams ran a little late,” The man smiled to himself. “But I think you’re right. He knew I’d never let him lose.”

Spock noted how Kirk held his hands defensively on his hips now. He contemplated how the whole thing was not, in fact, cheating.

The blond’s eyes flickered from Spock's face to his own hand.

"What? The ring? I took it off for the combat. You can't wear jewelry during sports," he reminded. Spock had assumed as much, but it still distracted him. "Thought I'd lose it again, huh?"

"I had lost it once before," Spock said. Kirk turned fully to him.

"Before? As in, before we switched?"

"Yes. I did not initially wear it as intended. Vulcans do not typically wear jewelry." Spock was not looking at Kirk now, simply letting memory narrate his thoughts. He had his hands behind his back and stood in proper posture. "I received that ring from an unknown and simply pocketed the object. It was left in the uniform pocket aboard the ship I had visited. And yet, the object was returned to me at the Academy somehow. It lay on the desk that I typically sat at.”

"So it doesn't mean anything to you?"

"As a Vulcan, I am not attached to material things, but I grew fond of the idea that it grounded me to this planet, this school and to the humans that I would be serving with. I admit that in the beginning, I had self doubt about attending here. This school, where I am the only Vulcan to attend." Spock hoped he was not wrong about Kirk, but he felt a kinship with him that he hoped would not sour over time.

"That's very human of you," Kirk was looking ahead to wherever he estimated Spock was looking.

Spock frowned, ready to protest such a statement. He did not want to be human, only accepted as he was and maybe more. Kirk glanced at him briefly, then grinned back out to the greenhouse.

"I suppose that it would be a comfort to be grounded when you feel like you're flying out of control," Kirk sympathized. Spock closed his eyes, a sense of calm reassurance ran through him.

Spock thought back to the moment he'd met Kirk, unaware of his identity. He had been flirtatious jesting. Spock was unaccustomed to this kind of treatment, thus took some offence. Their next encounter had been to deliver Gaila's gift. It had been a useful observation of character, but one that had created more questions than answers. Their last encounter being at the library where he'd been spared an injury from his own mistake. Kirk had even taken blame for the damages, reversing their roles in the scenario as he told the woman behind the desk of what had transpired. They were lenient, but Spock doubted it would have gone as smoothly if they'd been truthful. Spock had said nothing the entire exchange. A lie by omission.

Admittedly, Kirk was… Or perhaps Spock was…

"It still sounds like a lame reason to be attached to that ring. For a vulcan, that is. You sure you want to keep wearing that thing?" Kirk scoffed. Spock momentarily felt the stab at such a remark. Was Kirk speaking in jest or was he just like everyone else who antagonized him for his half breed status? Never human enough nor Vulcan enough.

"I see," Spock replied simply, his chest contracting. The silence was heavy and Spock couldn't find any words.

"Why don't you just give it to me?" Kirk asked, rather close. Spock looked at him in confusion. Then Kirk grabbed his wrist. His bare wrist where their skin met. Spock stiffened, but tried to reign in any emotional response. There was no denying the spark of desire coming from the human. Complex and beautiful was the mind Spock could sense.

He was not prepared for this man. Kirk's hand slipped from his wrist. The blond's lips made contact with his fingers, his middle finger, specifically where the ring was.

The vulcan stopped breathing.

Kirk smiled up at him and chuckled, as if this were humourous in any way.

Spock blinked and ripped his hand away. Such an explicit assault should be reprimanded. And yet the sparks flying from Kirk’s mind were not malicious. Spock clenched his jaw, both of his hands clenched into fists and ready to put an end to any further physical interactions between them with one blow.

Kirk held his hands up in a show of surrender, but Spock didn’t blink, change posture or say one word. The man wisely took a step back.

Voices could be heard getting closer, the crowds of spectators leaving the stadium. Spock and Kirk held each other's gazes. Kirk backed away slowly and only when he was well out of range, did the blonde break eye contact and go through the nearest exit. Spock kept still, only snapping out of his fixation when Chekov stepped up to him.

"Are you alright, Mr. Spock?" he asked, his brows upturned. Spock lowered his shoulders and straightened his back.

"I am fine," he breathed out.

"Alright," he said, sounding unconvinced. "Did you find Kirk?" Spock blinked at him.

"What would-"

"I know you ran after him. Was he hurt?" The young cadet was unaware that the real injury had almost been at Spock's hand.

"He is well," he replied dryly. He wanted to hide his hands in his pockets. No one had ever made sexual advances on him before, especially not in order to mock him. He felt rather sick.

What could have happened at that moment? It seemed that Kirk was playing a cruel game with him. One moment, Spock thought that their minds were creating a bond, the next, Kirk was mocking him as he made unseemly advances.

Spock did not look down at his hand where the ring was, where Jim had put his mouth. Starfleet was his fresh start. He did not want anything to ruin that. He could not go back to Vulcan.

Neither Vulcan, nor human. Was it always going to be this way?

He had hoped, perhaps a little too strongly, that Kirk would understand him. He was kind and witty, strong and cunning. He’d felt connected with him. He’d opened up to him. And whether it had occurred to Spock before then or not, there was a bond. Spock acknowledged it for what it was; a mutual attraction. He didn’t dare look any further. He feared that giving it any more attention would only increase its presence. Kirk clearly liked to manipulate others with his charms. His mind was like a siren call to snare him. Spock would keep his distance