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VI.

It is the night before the new captain will officially take command of the Enterprise, and while he is not averse to the change in command, neither does he welcome the disruption of eleven years' habit. However, he has just resigned himself to the idea of a new commander – especially one with Kirk's…distinct reputation – when said commander shows up unexpectedly, a full six hours before he is to appear for his first alpha shift.

"Captain on the Bridge," he snaps on the instant, showing no other form of his surprise or the awkwardness which settles in as the young man smiles disarmingly, waves them all back to stations.

"As you were, gentlemen. No, don't get up, Mr. Spock," the human adds as he smoothly vacates the command chair. "I'm just here to look around."

He raises an eyebrow, and moves from the chair. "It would be highly inappropriate for me to remain in the Captain's seat in your presence, sir."

"Even if I told you to remain?" the human asks curiously, and he notices the shorter man tugging on the sleeves of his gold tunic, as if unused to either seeing or feeling them on his skin.

"Even so, Captain. Regulation 143.6a clearly states that –"

"Yes, all right, I get it," the man laughs off his earnest attempt to remind him of policy. "As you wish, then, Mr. Spock. Shall I disturb your work if I just look around for a while? I can't seem to sleep. Too excited, I suppose."

"It is your ship, Captain; I daresay you may 'look around' all you like," he replies coldly, and turns to his science station to monitor the last-minute proceedings; they are to depart spacedock for the Enterprise's shakedown cruise at precisely 0900 hours.

The silence of what most humans referred to as the overnight shift, the hours simulating ship’s night aboard, enable him to observe the new captain without the human's being aware of the scrutiny. Kirk ambles around the Bridge, quietly introducing himself to the nervous gamma shift crewmen and then courteously leaving them to perform their duties without standing over them to watch. Finally he returns to the command chair and, after reverently running a hand over its gleaming faux leather, seats himself in it with a wide grin at nobody in particular.

And five minutes later, promptly falls asleep.

He weighs the human's obvious need for rest with the protocol and finally decides that this early in his command the captain would not appreciate rule-breaking being permitted even before officially commanding the Bridge.

He wakes the man by shaking the chair slightly; Kirk jumps awake on the instant, face flushing a bright scarlet as he meets the pointed look.

"Um…right. Guess I'm more tired than I thought," comes the embarrassed mutter.

"Perhaps you should retire for a few hours, Captain," he suggests sensibly. "Regulation forbids crew members from using a public area of work in which to gain the requisite hours of sleep they require in order to function properly."

The look he gets would amuse him if he permitted himself to feel the emotion; it is the pout of a ten-year-old human child being told to go to bed while a celebration is still being held. "You're not going to let me get away with anything on this ship, are you, Mr. Spock?" Kirk asks ruefully, but obviously without malice, and rubs the back of his neck.

He raises an eyebrow. "Would that be your preference, Captain?"

Unexpectedly, the human chuckles. "No, certainly not, Mr. Spock. Do continue to remind me of regulations whenever you feel I need to be reminded." He turns to leave, and casts a look behind him as the lift doors open. "Mind the store until Mr. Mitchell gets up here, will you?"

The doors close, and were he human he would shake his head. Instead, he returns to his station.

"Computer. Earth English dictionary, idiom section."

"Working…"

He glances over his shoulder as a precautionary measure, but the rest of the crew are busily engaged and ignoring him in their usual way. He is accustomed to being ignored by this time in his Starfleet career, and as a Vulcan it does not trouble him.

"Ready."

"Locate and define the phrase 'mind the store'."


V.

Two weeks have passed uneventfully, save for a minor technological glitch in the Officers' Mess selectors in which for three days the machines refused to disgorge hot chocolate with properly whipped cream at the Captain's request. Being hauled into the Captain's quarters and ordered to "never mind the warp coils, get those darn meal selectors working," according to Scott's gleeful retelling of the story over evening mess the following day, is evidently cause for amusement among the crew; he does not understand the concept, but he observes the effects, adding them to his knowledge and observations of human culture.

Spock himself is largely ignored by the primarily humanoid Enterprise crew, which does not surprise him; only sixty-three of the crew complement is comprised of men who served under Captain Pike, and of those only Montgomery Scott knew him by more than a passing snap to attention. Humans are intimidated by that which they do not fully understand, and he is by free admission uninterested in pursuing relationships outside the usual sphere of work; while he would not object to them neither does he desire them, and humans tend to take non-interest as dis-interest, though the two are not entirely synonymous.

He is accustomed to dining alone, which suits his purposes admirably; he has no desire for frivolous conversation nor to be forced to endure the wash of emotions – and the smells of carnivorous meals – that would surround him were he to have company.

The situation is not unusual, and so it takes him entirely by surprise when a tray is set down across from his at the deserted table, pushed into position by gold sleeve-encased hands.

"May I?" The question surprises him even further; a superior officer asks permission of no one, his right to do as he pleases.

Evidently his mask of non-reaction is not as perfect as he had supposed, for the human looks at him with remarkable perception. "By that I meant, will it…disturb you, if I sit with you, Mr. Spock? I am aware that Vulcans don't enjoy close quarters with someone else, and it won't offend me if you'd rather be alone. You just looked sort of…isolated, over here, and Gary's on duty on the Bridge..."

The human trails off in apparent nervousness, and he blinks twice before the words form. "I do not object to company, Captain, nor is my permission necessary."

"Thanks. But it is, Mr. Spock," the captain continues, sliding into the chair opposite and arranging his cup and napkin. "No man should have to put up with unwanted company if he prefers to be alone and is just too polite to say so; that constitutes social harassment in my book."

He raises an eyebrow at being included in the term 'no man' but addresses the latter part of the statement. "I neither prefer to be alone nor prefer company; Captain. Vulcans do not have preferences."

"And yet you're vegans, on and off ship," Kirk observes, eyes twinkling at him, two golden smiles in a face far too young for the trials of a starship captain.

The second eyebrow follows the first. "A moral belief is not a preference, Captain."

"Isn't it? I wonder." Suddenly, a flash of realization dawns on the man's animated face; he can fairly see the understanding creep over it in a light blush. "Wait, do you not eat with the rest of us because you don't want to watch us eat meat?"

"That is not the reason, Captain," he remonstrates, calmly partaking of his vegetable pasta, an Italian dish made of vinaigrette sauce over the small pasta shapes and what is most likely supposed to resemble eggplant (one of the four vegetarian meals the selectors provide that still taste remotely edible according to the humans he has observed complaining about them). “The meals replicated aboard ship all constitute the precise same nutrient content; technically you are no more consuming an animal product than I.”

"Just the same, I didn't think…that was rude of me," the human mutters, apparently distressed over the situation for reasons he is at a loss to explain. "I'll go get a salad or something."

Inexplicably warmed by the unusual sensitivity of the man, even if it is highly ridiculous in nature, he briefly moves a hand in remonstrance. "Captain, that is completely unnecessary," he reassures. "The personal choices of a race, especially over something so inconsequential as eating habits, are not reasons nor opportunities to foist one's beliefs upon others unasked."

The hazel eyes blink expressively, digesting that information. "You sure?" comes the predictably doubtful answer, and he nods patiently.

"Very well, Mr. Spock. But if I ever bring something to the table that turns your stomach, make sure you tell me," Kirk mumbles happily around an enormous mouthful of what Spock assumes is supposed to be ground beef on a bun.

He raises an eyebrow as mustard drips out the side of the overly-large sandwich, and wonders if this human intends sharing meals to become a habit; it is a completely novel idea.

And a fascinating one.


IV.

A month, two weeks, and three-point-seven-five days have passed from their departure of Earth, on their way to the Great Barrier at the edge of the galaxy; they are nearing the half-way point, and have just returned from a brief stopover on the planet of Portus III, where the new captain made instant friends with his crew by juggling duty shifts every two hours to allow each man at least sixty minutes in the planet's famed open-air bazaar.

Having no desire to stroll through the planet's main plaza, sipping fruit juice and purchasing superfluous souvenirs, Spock is finishing correlating the star charts with the nebula data they were able to glean from the probe he dropped just outside the phenomena when passing it in the last sector, when his door chimes.

That in itself is sufficient cause for him to look up, completely at a loss to explain the novelty. Only three times in his eleven years aboard the Enterprise has someone actually stopped by his quarters (and two of those had been summonses when communications had been down for repairs); most know his distaste of personal intrusion and those who do not know of it do not care. Only Captain Pike has ever seen the interior of the cabin, and then only to say goodbye before turning command over to Starfleet's new favorite son.

Under these circumstances, the idea of locking his door while not meditating has never occurred to him, and so it opens now of its own accord with the approach of his visitor.

His eyebrows fly upward, and he stands instantly, holding up a hand. "Captain Kirk, wait a moment," he says, striding toward the far wall with its environmental controls.

"Mr. Spock?" the human asks quizzically, thankfully unoffended by his hasty denial of entrance.

"The gravity of this room is fractionally higher than the corridor and the remainder of the ship, Captain," he explains. "Were you unaware of it upon entry, you would be liable to fall."

"Oh…really? Higher gravity? Why, if you don't mind my asking?"

"The planet Vulcan's gravity is considerably higher than that of Earth or the standard aboard Starfleet vessels. I prefer to increase…rather, the change is…relaxing, when I am in my own quarters," he amends, slightly chagrined at the badly-hidden smile that has appeared on the human's face at his admittance of a preference.

"I see. Well, don't change it, Mr. Spock," the Captain waves easily, stepping with care into the room and testing the feel of the force.

"It cannot be comfortable for you, Captain; had I known you would be coming I should have returned both it and the temperature to normal human levels." Not an apology, truly, for Vulcans do not apologize easily – more a statement of fact.

"Don't ever feel like you need to do that," Kirk says, standing just inside the door, as if waiting for permission to come in the entire way. "This is your cabin, and I am a guest. Expecting an alteration of your home environment would be illogical of me, wouldn’t it?"

"I do not wish you to be uncomfortable, Captain…your visit was merely unexpected."

A frown forms between the sandy eyebrows. "You don't have visitors often, I take it?"

"You are the first, other than Captain Pike's appearance to bid me farewell," he responds matter-of-factly.

The human's eyes widen unaccountably. "Really?"

He sends the man a warning look; even the well-meant incredulity is not an emotion he enjoys being directed at him – and Kirk apparently is far too easy a personality to sense from a distance than most humans he has met. "I do not require visitors, Captain, nor do they wish to seek me out, for obvious reasons. Now –"

"Obvious reasons?" the man echoes, and though flushed already from the heat the captain turns a shade darker. "What the devil are you talking about?"

He moves to the wall control, lowers the temperature by ten degrees; still hot by human standards, but the temperature of a cool night on Vulcan. "I am a Vulcan, Captain," he answers with perfect sincerity. "I have discovered that most of the crew aboard this ship prefer the company of their own kind to that of an emotionless alien."

Kirk's eyes, open windows to his feelings as they have been for the last six weeks, harden suddenly into a steely glitter that takes him slightly aback; this is the command persona Starfleet must have seen in the young man, for until now he appeared little more than a child with a new toy – a careful, brilliant child, but still a child.

Now the man is coldly, clearly angry; and Spock has absolutely no idea why. Fascinating.

"Do you mean to tell me that members of my crew have said they don't wish to socialize with you because you…forgive me, but just because you aren't human?"

He looks curiously at the man, and nods at last, uncertain as to why his commanding officer is so distraught about the fact.

"That is inexcusable! I won't have bigotry aboard my ship, Mr. Spock," Kirk snaps, eyes flashing. "And I will not have you being forced to tolerate it until I find out about it under the table, either. Prejudice defeats the entire purpose of why we're out here on this mission. If a member of my crew expresses that sort of opinion in your presence I want to know about it. Is that understood?"

"The order is understood, Captain…" he hesitates, but continues at the human's encouraging nod. "But I fail to understand your excessively emotional reaction to a simple fact."

The anger is fading, as is the color from the human's expressive face, and he is now offered a smile that fills the room with its brilliance as the captain turns to leave, tossing his last sentence over his shoulder before the door closes provokingly behind him. "Excessively emotional, Mr. Spock? Do forgive me."

The words are lilting, almost too casual, and he is quite certain this human is actually teasing him, though he has yet to master the concept in its entirety.

He looks at the closed door for a moment, puzzling over the man's uniqueness – and then he realizes that Kirk never did say why he had visited in the first place, or even answer Spock’s question before leaving. The man is far more intelligent than even his Starfleet records show, to so deflect a Vulcan's inquiries.

Intriguing.


III.

Four months into their shakedown cruise, First Officer Gary Mitchell somehow convinces the captain to detour slightly to the planet Nordu Alpha for two days, under the pretext of replenishing medical supplies but really for the purpose of entertainment, of the kind Spock considers human in its crudest form.

Mitchell's attitude toward his captain is casual at best, borderline insubordinate at worst; though to be fair to Kirk, even the sake of old friendship will not permit outright disrespect in front of subordinates. Still, the disregard for personal space the man has shown toward himself, and the impertinence toward his captain – friendship notwithstanding – does nothing to change his disapproval of the detour.

"It's only for two days, Spock, and the crew does need a break after that ion storm. Scotty said we can't have more than Warp Two anyhow and if he can have forty-eight hours to fix the engines then we'll still get to the Barrier on time at Warp Four," Kirk explains after seeing Mitchell off to the planet's surface for purposes about which he prefers to remain in total ignorance.

This information surprises him, and causes a twinge of guilt over the fact that he had assumed the captain had acquiesced solely because Mitchell had insisted. Perhaps it is this guilt, or perhaps it is genuine curiosity – or more possibly a combination of both, but somehow that evening finds him reluctantly beaming down with his Captain to observe the spaceport's famed laser-light display.

"We could have perceived the show quite easily by watching from the Enterprise with the main viewer attuned to their local broadcasting frequency," he points out tersely over the noise of an uncomfortably raucous group of males and females of differing species, all faces upturned, watching the brilliant display.

The Captain, his features illuminated brightly by first a violet and then a green glow from above, turns to eye him speculatively. "Is the crowd causing you difficulty, Mr. Spock?" he asks.

"It is…somewhat disquieting," he admits, for he has learnt quickly that Kirk wishes the truth and nothing but from his command team. "But not debilitating," he adds after the human's look of dismay.

"Well let's get out of it, then." The human barely brushes fingertips over his wrist as a guide in the clamor, knowing better than to take his arm and pull him through the crowd, and he picks up enough of the sense of direction to blindly follow in the dazzling display and milling throng.

They end up in a well-lit establishment specializing more in drinks than the other types of entertainment he had been wary of encountering on the planet, and the place is both warm and considerably more well-kept than the seedier bar-rooms he has heard of humans enjoying to frequent on shore leaves. Whether because of personal preference, or because this human is aware of his reticence, the captain has obviously picked the place for its relative lack of chaos and quiet live music, played from small and likely local band in one corner of the main room.

James Kirk is, he has come to realize, quite considerate of his crew. Two weeks after their first meal together, the human had been apparently horrified to learn that the selectors had only been programmed to produce two Vulcan meals, and the next day had conducted a survey aboard ship to find out that nearly sixty-five percent of the meal selections were meat-based, and primarily meals from the North American continental area. Only a few ethnic dishes – Japanese, Vulcan, Thai, Andorian, among others – that tasted remotely like their original counterparts were programmed, and Kirk had immediately set both his Chief Science Officer and Mr. Scott to rectifying that error (and programming something the human called 'decent root beer' into the selector while he was at it).

Now, Kirk is sipping a moderately-sized drink after scanning it with a pocket medical scanner Spock had no idea was in his pocket (the man is no fool, he is pleased to see) to see the alcohol content in the fizzy orange brew is at a level that will not impair his functions if recalled to the Bridge tonight. While Spock himself does not imbibe alcoholic beverages he is quite content with a glass of mineral water flavored lightly with lime and sugar.

The feeling of intense bewilderment, coupled with an embarrassingly human display of speechlessness, still remains from the Captain's innocuous "My Vulcan friend doesn't drink; what do you have for him?"; never before has he been called such, and certainly not by a human whom he has barely known for four months. It is not possible for Vulcans and humans to initiate or maintain relationships such as friendships, mainly because Vulcan training never includes how to perform that state of being humans find so much pleasure in. His mother more than once instructed him to 'make friends at the Academy' or in Starfleet, but he had never quite discovered how, or even if he should wish to. Casual acquaintances are unheard-of and impossible for Vulcans; and the type of deep, abiding friendship that is the only permissible relationship of its kind outside a familial bond is all but unheard-of among his people.

Disturbed in mind because of these thoughts, he does not talk much, and neither does the Captain; but this is nothing new, and has become considerably less awkward than it had been at first. After a comfortable ten-point-three minutes the Captain moves around the establishment, checks on a few of his crew members who have wandered in in varying stages of sobriety, and warns them to be aboard before the Enterprise leaves orbit tomorrow or they'll be looking for transfer to a freighter.

He sees Kirk's communicator be pulled from its holster, and he takes his glass and moves back toward his captain, consummately avoiding having a fiery-red brew spilled on his immaculate tunic and then wishing he had gone the long way around the tables. He reaches the human near the bar, and looks at him quizzically.

Kirk sighs, swallows the rest of his drink and sets down the glass. "Starfleet Command, private communiqué. Probably wanting me to get my tail out to the Barrier and back so they can send us on our way for real," the captain grumbles, and while he too is eager to study the phenomenon that protects their galaxy from the rest of the universe he does not envy the red tape and publicity involved in this crucial shakedown cruise.

"Stand by, Scotty." Kirk casts him a mischievous look. "You don't have to come back; you're welcome to hang out here for a while."

"I do not believe I would be at ease in this establishment," he returns with an upturned eyebrow. "Besides, you may wish to have me, as I believe you say, 'run interference' with Starfleet Command for you. Or at the least ensure that your reports to them are entirely accurate; your last statistics were off by point-three-four-one decimal places regarding the ionic fluctuations of the Psi Omicron nebula."

He is startled by a golden burst of laughter, and wonders what he said that could bring such enjoyment to the man; would he never understand these humans?

"Mr. Spock, Mr. Spock," Kirk chuckles, digging in his pocket for a credit chip, "you are going to be very good for me, do you know that?"

Horrified to catch the corners of his lips twitching in reflexive response to the human's contagious amusement, he instead schools his features and replies with a perfectly calm "I should hope so, sir."

And then he remembers a somewhat archaic human custom, as the bartender comes toward them – an impulsive decision, but one he makes as a calculated gamble that Kirk will recognize it for the acceptance it is, as he could and will never say it aloud.

Before the captain can locate his payment, he extracts a credit chip from his pocket and hands it to the bartender, who looks askance at a Vulcan paying for drinks. "I believe the proper expression is…'it's on me,' Captain?" he inquires with entirely sincere solemnity.

Both hazel eyes widen with utter surprise, and the human gapes at him, as if trying to decipher an insoluble equation. Has he said or done the tradition incorrectly?

Evidently not; Kirk's eyebrows return to their settled, easy position, and he is the recipient of that curiously disarming smile. "Thank you, Mr. Spock," the human says simply, and calls for Mr. Scott to energize.


II.

Three weeks later he is in Rec Room Six playing Tri-D chess against the Enterprise computer, with the intent to analyze and reprogram the more basic levels for the purpose of tutoring. Two young ensigns in his Science Lab Twelve are interested in learning the game, and he is aware that humans play more comfortably when matched with an equal skill level rather than a superior with a handicap; the computer will be a more effective, and more personable, teacher than he could be.

He feels the mood of the room change on the instant, a more cautious atmosphere and less antagonistic posturing over the ping-pong tables in the corner, and does not need to turn around to know that the Captain has entered the room. When a shadow falls across his monitor, he looks up to see visual verification of his senses.

Kirk is smiling curiously. "Playing against the computer again, Mr. Spock?"

The human's hand hovers hesitantly over the back of the other chair, and he nods at it in unspoken acquiescence. "Not at this time, Captain," he answers as the man sinks into the chair and leans forward, watching him intently. "I am attempting to program some more basic tutoring programs into the computer's memory banks, so that Ensigns Peterson and Mendel may learn the basics of the game without embarrassment from a superior opponent as mentor."

What exactly he has said to elicit such a surprised, and apparently pleased, response, is beyond him, but the captain's face is smiling so widely that it must be most uncomfortable. "That is very kind of you, Mr. Spock," Kirk replies, obviously delighted.

For some reason the unusual pleasure in turn pleases him, and he feels a compulsive need to further explain. "I am aware that it can be considered insulting to human intelligence to play against a superior skill level; even handicapped, neither of them would wish to play against me."

"I think you're wrong," the human informs him quite bluntly, and he raises an eyebrow in mild surprise.

"How so, Captain?"

"I think there are more people on board this ship who'd like to play you than you think, that's all. I've seen how well your subordinates in the Science department speak of your patience and understanding," Kirk says, quite seriously, and he feels an inexcusably human urge to shift uneasily in his chair.

He covers the feeling by lowering his eyes to the chess board, resetting the pieces in lieu of anything to say to the obvious respect emanating from the man sitting opposite. "You are…very kind, Captain," he finally answers graciously, and shifts the last knight back into formation. "But even though I do not understand the emotion of enjoyment, I have noticed that being beaten repeatedly is not a situation which is beneficial to the human ego."

A dangerous glint suddenly sparks the hazel eyes into golden life. "You always win, Mr. Spock?"

"Affirmative."

"Against the computer?"

"I programmed the computer, Captain."

The human's eyes bug slightly, a most amusing expression.

"Therefore the most competitive game can only end in a stalemate at best," he adds, somewhat chagrined at the knowledge.

"And you don't play humans at all?"

"I have on occasion, more to instruct than for recreational purposes," he admits slowly. "However…the crewmen involved seemed to resent being beaten in less than a dozen moves."

Again that disarmingly deceptive smile tugs at the younger man's features, and he feels a sudden twitch at the edge of his mental barriers – a warning, but not of harm to come; something more indefinable.

The human settles into the chair and pulls the board between them, and looks at his companion with a challenge in his eyes. "I'll bet my next shore leave that I can last longer than that."

Somehow, he is not surprised by either the bold over-confidence or the idea that this particular human could last that long against him, but he is obligated to point out the man's obvious disadvantage.

"Come now, Mr. Spock, let's not frighten my human pride any more than it already is," Kirk laughs him off, waving a hand eagerly at the board. "Twelve moves, you say?"

"That is the longest a game has lasted between myself and a crewman, sir."

"Well, here's hoping I can go at least fifteen," Kirk declares, folding his hands on the table and grinning up at him.

He raises an eyebrow, and tests the man with a trio of cautiously-executed moves to lead into the Dorovan gambit, which is parried well enough by the captain. At least the man knows his basics.

He moves a rook to the second level, and courteously points out that Kirk will be checkmated in six.

"Ah ah ah, no hints, Mr. Spock," the human says with an oddly satisfied smile lurking in his eyes. "It's only been seven moves; even six more will at least put me over that twelve you mentioned, and I win my bet."

"So they will, Captain," he replies, watching the obvious enjoyment on the human's face and wondering how the man could possibly maintain such confidence in such heavily out-matched odds.

Then Kirk's bishop slides up out of nowhere to remove a useless pawn, leaving him wide open for a Coridian Frontal Attack.

"Were I you, Captain, I should not finish that move," he points out in an effort to coach the younger man; for some reason he cannot quite fathom, he does not wish this game to end so ignominiously.

"Ah, but Mr. Spock," the Captain replies, leaning across the table and dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "I'm not you, you see." A small smirk, one that puts him instantly on his guard. "Still think you can checkmate in six?"

"Negative," he replies coolly. "Due to your illogical and hastily-considered move, mate is possible now in only three."

"Try it." The words are a challenge, but not one spurring from animosity as he has heard before in humans. Strange.

"Your choice of play is most unfortunate," he warns helplessly, oddly wishing the man had chosen his play better; the game could be quite…pleasant.

Kirk only smiles, and motions him to continue. He makes the requisite move; the human will not last three moves now.

Two hours later, this particular human has not only brought the total up to one hundred eighty-four moves, but Kirk is seriously threatening to actually win the game. And oddly enough, rather than being horrified he finds himself compellingly fascinated by the idea of being beaten by a human.

"You are quite unpredictable, Captain," he compliments, and quite sincerely, as the man somehow wriggles his queen out of a carefully-laid trap. "And a formidable opponent."

Kirk smiles. "I've been considered pretty good by human standards, but I've never played against Vulcan intelligence before. Now I know why most people are too intimidated to play with you – you're brilliant, there's no other word for it."

He feels a strange warmth in his face, and lowers his eyes to hastily move the nearest piece and avoid showing the feeling – and realizes with quite human annoyance that it was a terribly ill-timed move.

Judging from the small smirk ghosting across the captain's face, the distraction had been pre-planned and the mistake was immediately being taken advantage of.

"I believe that your attempts to distract me could constitute cheating, Captain," he intones severely, frowning at the board as Kirk makes his (still illogical) move.

"Jim," the man remarks, removing his hand from the knight.

"I beg your pardon."

"I let my friends call me Jim, Mr. Spock – and as my third in command I'd like you to be comfortable doing the same."

Unacceptable. "Such familiarity is not appropriate between officers, Captain," he says stiffly, this time wary of a trap being laid by the human's devious distraction.

"We're not on duty," Kirk protests, looking up at him with a persuasive expression. "Can't you make exception to regulation when it's just us?"

He dryly indicates the entirety of the off-duty crew complement, who have been watching the game in dumbfounded astonishment for the last fifty-point-three minutes. "Hardly, Captain."

Kirk smiles a bit guiltily, and lowers his voice. "Okay, but what about when we're alone? Can't you just call me Jim? Formality gets so old after a while."

"Check." He resists the urge to show his glee at successfully distracting this devious human in retaliation for earlier. "Formality is a gesture of respect, sir. To drop such respect is detrimental to working relationships."

"But what about friendly relationships?" the human pleads in a quieter tone, obviously out of respect for his privacy and mindful of the enthralled crew. "Humans like to hear their friends say their names, Mr. Spock."

"As I neither have friends, nor am human, I would not know, Captain. And check again."

Kirk hastily scoots his king out of danger, for the moment, and leans back in his chair for a long few seconds, looking pensive – and not over the game, if the sudden lapse in concentration is any indication. He raises an eyebrow but has no room for mercy in this battle for victory; Kirk's sudden lack of strategy due to disappointment will be his undoing.

"Check. Mate in four, Captain," he adds in what humans call an 'uncalled-for' bit of satisfaction.

The darkening scowl he receives is more amusing than threatening, and he hears a ripple of laughter flow through the watching crowd.

"Four? I don't think so, Mr. Spock," the human finally retorts, bringing up a hand to lazily move his only remaining rook to the third level.

He feels both eyebrows brush his bangs lightly – that was highly unexpected. "I must revise that last statement, in this case, Captain."

Kirk grins outright at his discomfiture, and clasps his hands on the table in front of him while he contemplates his next move.

"Tell you what," the human ventures suddenly. "If I beat you, will you call me Jim when we're alone?"

"The statistical likelihood of that scenario is nearly sixty-four-point –"

"Yes or no, Mr. Spock?"

The human is most appallingly direct at times. The likelihood of the man's actually winning the game is slim, and it does apparently mean enough to him that he would refuse to drop the subject until he receives an answer.

And one thing he has learned quickly in the last few months, is that James Kirk is worse than an Ortavian leech-worm in clinging to a subject until receiving the answer he desires.

"Very well, Captain," he acquiesces, and is rewarded with that blinding grin of delight and a highly unorthodox move which seriously jeopardizes his queen.

The Captain unfortunately ends up losing, despite two more hours of a quite brilliant fight to the bitter end.

And yet he is not certain if the residual disappointment he feels is solely Kirk's, or rather both of theirs.


I.

He is on the Bridge when Kirk's voice, obviously breathless and full of unspoken pain, fills the communications channel. Before the Captain has materialized on the Transporter Pad, he has taken over the controls and sent Scott to command the Bridge, and also has ordered all corridors between the Transporter Room and Deck Five completely cleared. A Captain's dignity is something to be preserved at all costs – and this captain's in particular, he feels a strange responsibility for.

They have been on friendly terms for some days, a few weeks, or is it months? Proof of how illogical the feeling is, in that he cannot pinpoint the first moment this man became a regular object in his thoughts – but of late he has been quite disturbed by the fact that Gary Mitchell's descent into 'godhood' and subsequent actions have driven a wedge between an acquaintanceship that has barely formed past the occasional meal together.

He has, of course, never preferred Mitchell's brash company nor his only half-hearted efficiency, but the man is – was – a competent navigator, and a personal friend of Kirk's; and besides that, taking life in any form, however necessary, is utterly abhorrent to a precisely logical mind.

Nevertheless, if he had been so reluctant to end Mitchell's life, he cannot begin to imagine how difficult the job has been for Kirk, a personal and close – and by virtue of simply being human, emotional – friend of the late First Officer.

By the time Kirk is materializing, he has categorized and filed away all these thoughts and the residual resentment against Mitchell for causing Kirk to make this choice in the first place, and he exudes nothing but typical Vulcan tranquility when the captain finally solidifies on the platform.

Basic deduction fairly screams the story louder than the haunted, horrified look evident on the man's face. Clothing ripped practically to shreds, covered in the chalky dark dust of Delta Vega's surface, face and body bruised and quiet possibly bleeding from an obvious desperate struggle – but most of all is evident the grief of a dear friend's betrayal to the point of what would, to a guilty human mind, amount to cold-blooded execution of a man who never chose his unfortunate fate.

Spock does not know what to expect; humans are emotional creatures and while Kirk has shown remarkable – and respectable – restraint he nonetheless is only human. He expects anger, recrimination for suggesting the execution in the first place, since in his experience humans prefer to assign guilt and blame to anyone, deserving or not, rather than bear the burden themselves. And he is, in this case, somewhat responsible for Mitchell's fate; recrimination would from the human's point of view be only logical.

Whatever he is prepared for, it certainly is not for Kirk to materialize in a slumped-sitting position, staring blankly at the front of the Transporter Console, and after five-point-seven-five seconds of silent blinking to hurl the phaser-rifle as hard as he can at the nearest wall, where it strikes with a reverberating clang and skids to the floor.

The grief and horror radiating off the human in waves is enough to nearly stagger him; Kirk is broadcasting emotions far more loudly than he ever has in the six months they have served on the same ship. The man usually has far more restraint, almost inhuman control, and only now does he realize how deeply this new captain cares, grieves, loves…lives.

And now, Jim is in incredible pain, a kind he cannot fully understand and possibly never will.

As every experiment he begins, however, that does not deter him from making the attempt. He activates the lock on the Transporter Room door, and makes a mental note to delete the footage of this incident from the room's security vids when they are finished here.

Then he hesitantly moves closer to Kirk, who is still sitting, staring into nothing and everything in front of him, and after meeting no rejection he sits beside the man, silent and watchful.

"He's dead, Spock," comes the information a moment later, the tone hollow and empty, as if with Mitchell had died all life in the universe. Is this all-encompassing pain what humans truly feel at loss? How could they possibly cope with it, in the absence of Vulcan training?

"You have prevented him from destroying the ship and everyone aboard, Captain," he says quietly, gently.

A bitter, choked affirmative is his only answer, and Kirk bows his head, resting it on his clasped hands, elbows propped across his knees.

"Captain…that is what he would have wished," he tries again, for the truth is something he can offer as comfort – Mitchell had himself said that, and the First was at heart a good man. He would not have wanted harm to befall Kirk or anyone else aboard, had he been in his right mind. "You know this."

"Yeah," is the muffled, pain-laced answer, spoken into the torn, bruised hands. "That…doesn't make it any easier."

"I do not suppose it does," he responds softly, completely at a loss. He has never dealt with such a close betrayal before, nor has he ever actually cared about a human involved in one; to say I know how you feel, Captain, would be a lie of epic proportions and considerably unhelpful.

Perhaps a return to business would be best, so as to not make the situation worse by uncertain blundering. "Captain." He sees the slump of the dejected shoulders, and amends hastily, "…Jim, I have instructed Mr. Scott to retire to a safe distance and hold the conn until I instruct him otherwise."

A nod, accompanied by what sounds suspiciously like a fiercely-muffled sob, reaches his sensitive hearing.

He moves slightly closer to the huddled figure, unable to reach out for fear of overloading his already hypersensitive mental receptors but knowing the human is in need of some sort of comfort. "Captain, tell me if I may assist you in some way," he finally comes close to pleading, not wishing to watch the human try to control his own pain any longer.

One eye, shimmering with unshed tears that stubbornly refuse to fall but need to, peeks out from the torn sleeves where the man's head rests, and then retreats with a visible shudder.

"Jim?"

"Stay with me," Kirk whispers, so faintly he can barely hear the helpless appeal. "Please."

The reply comes instantaneously, surprising him with the fierceness of its loyalty and strangely long-term implications.

"I shall, Captain. Now…and for as long as you wish it."

He receives no answer immediately, but a few moments later realizes that the captain is crying silently, the raw pain of grief and guilt battering furiously against his mental shields. His first instinct is to flee the room and its occupant, to protect his mind against both the agony of loss and the unaccountably protective desire that is rising within him, to ensure that this man never is harmed in this manner again – at any cost.

But he stays, for that hour and part of the next, until the Captain is calm enough to move to his quarters, where he changes and receives basic medical attention, and allows himself to be put to bed. Kirk is uneasily asleep within moments, though it is a restless one, no doubt full of unpleasant dreams of the yet unspoken-of atrocities occurring on Delta Vega's surface.

He works silently at Kirk's computer to compose the death reports for Dehner and Mitchell so that the captain does not have to do so in the morning, finishing around 0100 hours.

Jim never knows that he stays, silently watchful, for the rest of the night as well.

Tomorrow will be a new day.