Chapter 1 – First Meeting
When Spock is informed, shortly before his second year at the Academy, that he will be getting a new advisor, he assimilates the news and moves on, barely giving it a second thought. The scheduled meetings have never been anything more than a formality – lasting only long enough for Captain Wu to smile and tell him to keep up the good work – and he assumes that will not change.
It only takes one meeting with Commander Pike for him to realise his assumptions are deeply wrong.
It starts off much the same as the other meetings, with Pike complimenting him on his superlative marks in his first-year classes. "Top of the class in six separate courses and at least fifth in all of them," Pike says. "Very impressive."
Spock inclines his head, accepting the compliment.
"However," he continues, and Spock blinks. "I have some concerns about the non-academic side of your tenure here."
Spock tenses. "I'm not sure I understand, sir."
Pike glances briefly at his computer screen. "You've expressed a wish to serve on a starship once you graduate the Academy."
"Yes," Spock agrees, although he is unsure whether it is meant to be a question.
Pike studies him. "You're aware, of course, that this will require you to work in close quarters with several hundred other people, most of whom will be human?"
Pike frowns. "In such a situation, academic attainment, while praiseworthy, is not the only thing that matters. I'm concerned about your ability to socialise with your human colleagues."
Spock stays silent. If he is honest, he has some concerns of his own, but he does not like where this conversation is leading.
Pike looks back at his computer. "I've spoken to some of your instructors, and they agreed with me." He gives Spock a brief smile and adds, "Although they all stressed that you are an excellent student."
Before Spock can respond he is back to business, continuing, "So, here's what we're going to do." He picks up a PADD and begins tapping at it with the stylus. "I'm sending you a list of Academy groups and clubs. You are going to join at least one of them, and get back to me by the end of this week. Is that acceptable?"
Spock frowns, but knows better than to argue. "Yes, sir," he replies quietly.
Pike glances up from his PADD and nods. "All right then. If there isn't anything else, you're dismissed."
Spock nods and leaves swiftly, his mind running over Pike's words. There is a certain logic to the suggestion, but something inside him rejects the idea. He likes spending time alone, and his previous attempts to socialise with his human classmates have been dismal failures. Still, he has made a promise and does not intend to break it.
Once back in his room he pulls out his PADD and begins to look through the list of clubs, searching for the least objectionable option.
The Non-human Students Club immediately catches his eye, but as the purpose of this exercise is for him to interact with humans, such a club would be somewhat counterproductive. He mentally crosses it off his list and continues searching.
After going through the whole list, he decides on the Chess Club. He has some familiarity with the game through playing it with his mother, and such a club seems unlikely to attract the kind of loud and boisterous humans he most wishes to avoid.
Decision made, he makes a note of the first meeting – tomorrow at 1900 – then sends a message to Commander Pike informing him of his choice.
As he goes through that night's meditation, he can only hope that it is not a decision he will come to regret.
* * *
The following evening, he arrives at the appointed room a full ten minutes prior to the scheduled start of the meeting. There are only two students already in attendance, one male and one female, both human. They are busily setting up chessboards around the room, but look up as he enters and greet him warmly, if slightly hesitantly.
"Are you here for Chess Club?" the girl asks, coming over to him.
Spock nods, and she smiles, brushing a strand of red hair out of her face. "I haven't seen you before. Is this your first time?"
Spock nods again, before mentally shaking himself and forcing out a verbal response. "Yes."
She nods. "Well, I'm Tina, and that's Nate." She indicates the dark-skinned boy on the other side of the classroom, and he raises a hand before going back to doling out chess pieces. "The rest of the club should be along soon. We're expecting a lot of new people, so you should fit right in."
I sincerely doubt that, Spock thinks, seeing as I have never fit in anywhere. But he keeps his scepticism on the matter to himself and merely nods.
Tina opens her mouth to say something else, but Spock interrupts her. "If it is acceptable, I would like to practice a little before the others arrive."
Her smile dims and he realises he may have been too abrupt. But she recovers herself and nods, gesturing in the general direction of the tables. "Sure, go ahead."
Spock inclines his head in acknowledgement and makes his way over to a table in the corner. He turns the board so that the white pieces are on his side and sits down, intending to recreate a game he played with the computer a few days ago. Perhaps a more tangible visual representation will help him understand where he went wrong.
He quickly becomes engrossed, his eidetic memory taking him quickly through each move of the game. He is so focused on his memories that he doesn't notice the boy approaching him until he speaks.
"Mind if I join you?"
Spock blinks, startled out of his thoughts, and only just manages to keep his surprise from showing on his face. He looks up to see a boy a little younger than him standing by his table. He has dark-blond hair, and his eyes are bright with interest as he looks at Spock.
Spock glances around and sees that the room has filled up quite a bit since he sat down, but there are still several unclaimed tables. He does not understand why this boy should want to sit with him.
The boy's expression changes to a frown and Spock realises he hasn't actually answered the question. "Yes," he says, then shakes his head. "I mean no. I do not mind."
"Great." The boy grins and slides into the seat opposite. "I'm Jim. Jim Kirk," he says, then shrugs, adding, "Well, actually it's James Kirk, but everyone calls me Jim."
"My name is Spock," Spock replies. "It is... nice to meet you."
"And you," Jim returns easily. "I've never met a Vulcan before."
Spock decides not to pursue that line of thought. "Would you like to play white or black?" he asks, as he starts to reset the chessboard.
Jim reaches out to help him. "I'll let you decide," he says, giving Spock another warm smile. Spock glances away uncertainly and concentrates on setting up the pieces.
When he is done, he turns the board so that the white pieces are on Jim's side.
Jim raises his eyebrows in response. "Feeling confident, are we?" he asks.
Spock stares at him blankly. "I am not capable of that emotion," he replies.
Jim shrugs. "If you say so." He reaches for a pawn, and the game begins.
It isn't long before Spock realises he may have underestimated his opponent. Jim's style of play may be illogical, but it is surprisingly effective, and Spock finds himself having to fight for his victory.
By the time he announces, "Checkmate," Spock is almost enjoying himself. Jim is the most stimulating opponent he has had in years.
"You play well," he says as they set up the board for a second round.
"So do you," Jim returns. "I haven't had a game like that in years."
Spock blinks at the inadvertent echo of his own thoughts. "Neither have I," he replies.
Jim smiles, then turns his attention to replacing the pieces on the board. When all the pieces have been returned to their place, he sits back and asks, "Do many people on Vulcan play chess?"
"Some," Spock replies. "However, it is not common." He remembers asking T'Pring to play, once, and how she looked at him as if he were crazy. "It is considered the province of humans."
"Hasn't stopped you," Jim notes, and Spock blinks. Even now, after more than a year living among humans, it still causes a slight spark of exhilaration to be seen as just another Vulcan, no different from any other. It is a particular peculiarity that he seems to blend in better as one of perhaps half a dozen Vulcans than he did when he was surrounded by millions of them.
"No," he agrees, not bothering to correct Jim's assumption. "It hasn't." Then, in an attempt to change the subject, he adds, "How long have you been playing?"
Jim reaches out and fiddles with a white pawn. "Since I was little. My mom taught me. She's really good." He leans forward, closing his hand around the pawn. "She's the reason I joined this club, actually. She told me about all the tournaments she used to enter when she was at the academy, and I guess it's a way of feeling closer to her."
Another thing they have in common, but Spock is more interested in something else Jim has said. "Your mother is in Starfleet?"
"Was," Jim corrects. "My dad, too. They actually met right here at the academy."
"In the chess club?" Spock asks, raising an eyebrow.
Jim laughs. "No! Dad hates chess. They met in one of the unarmed combat courses." He grins and adds, "The way mom tells it, she beat him up half a dozen times and then asked him out for coffee."
"Humans have very strange courting rituals," Spock observes, sending Jim into a fresh wave of laughter.
"I like you," Jim says, when he has recovered. It's clearly just a figure of speech, not indicative of any real feelings, but Spock feels a strange warmth settle in his chest regardless. He does not think anyone aside from his mother has ever said that to him before.
He glances down, away from Jim's smiling face, and takes a deep breath to steady himself. You are a Vulcan. Act like one. He raises his eyes and fixes his gaze on Jim's hand. "If you would replace the pawn, perhaps we could have another game?"
Jim looks down at his hand. "Oh, sorry." He swiftly returns the pawn to its rightful place on the board and then turns the board so that the white pieces face Spock. "You can go first this time."
Spock raises an eyebrow, but he is still slightly shaken from Jim's earlier words and does not argue. He moves a pawn at random, and only afterwards realises it is the one Jim was fiddling with.
They talk more as they play. Spock learns that Jim's father was a Starfleet captain, now retired, and that Jim has chosen Command track in the hopes of following in his footsteps. The warmth and affection in Jim's eyes when he speaks of his father makes Spock wonder what it would be like to have that kind of relationship with his own father. The thought makes him ache, and he is relieved when Jim finally changes the subject.
Their second game lasts longer than the first, and they have not finished by the time Tina claps her hands and calls the meeting to a close.
"Damn!" Jim says. "Just as I was winning."
Spock stares at him. "You are not winning," he counters. "You are three pieces down, and I was just about to take your second bishop."
Jim doesn't look in the least perturbed by his words. "Yes, but I had a plan." His eyes light up suddenly, and he begins rummaging in his bag. "I have an idea."
"Indeed?" Spock asks, as Jim straightens up, holding a PADD and looking triumphant.
Jim nods. "I'll take a picture of the board, and then we can start off from where we left off next week." He holds the PADD up in front of the chessboard and taps the screen a few times. "There."
Spock inclines his head. "That was not necessary. Vulcans have eidetic memory; I could have told you the positions of the pieces."
Jim shoves the PADD back in his bag. "Ah, but how do I know you wouldn't change things to your advantage?" He waves a finger. "No, no. This way I have proof." He taps his bag and nods firmly.
The remark is clearly in jest, and Spock finds himself almost amused by the human's antics. "You could manipulate the picture," he points out lightly.
Jim grins. "Ah, but if you really do have eidetic memory, you'd be able to tell."
Spock tilts his head. "Logical."
Jim's grin widens. "So, I'll see you next week?"
Spock nods. "I will be there."
He watches as Jim exchanges a few words with Tina and Nate, then turns and gives Spock a quick wave. Spock raises his own hand in acknowledgement and finds he is almost looking forward to next week. Perhaps joining a club like this was not such a bad idea.
* * * * *
Jim frowns as he heads back towards his dorm room. He knew joining Starfleet Academy would mean living and working with many different species – in fact, that has always been one of the main draws for him – but it is still takes some getting used to. Prior to coming here, virtually all the aliens he's ever seen have been in books, or from a distance, on trips with his parents. Now they're everywhere.
All human cadets were given a speech and a booklet at the start of the semester about how to avoid offending the various species that populate the campus, which he's memorised, but he's still a little worried about screwing it all up.
Still, he thinks, he didn't do too badly with the Vulcan this evening. He even managed to remember not to touch him. He's always heard that Vulcans are cold and emotionless, but Spock didn't seem that way. Reserved, yes, but to Jim's mind he came off more shy than anything else. Like he didn't quite know how to interact with people.
Jim considers that as he enters his dorm building. He doesn't know exactly how many Vulcans there are at Starfleet, but it can't be many, and a pang of sympathy goes through him as he realises how isolated Spock must be. Light years away from home, separated from his people, surrounded by humans with likely incomprehensible ways of acting and speaking and thinking. No wonder the poor guy seemed so overwhelmed.
Well, Jim knows enough about feeling lonely and out of place to want to relieve that feeling in others, and he makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to try and help Spock feel more at home here. Part of his mind reminds him that this is a Vulcan he's dealing with, but he shoves the thought aside. If Spock doesn't want his help, fine, but he's going to at least try. Besides, that was just about the best game of chess he's ever had.
He remembers the look of surprise that briefly crossed Spock's face when he offered to play with him and wonders if anyone else ever has.
* * * * *
Spock arrives early again the next week. He greets Tina and Nate somewhat absently, his mind already on the in-progress game with Jim. Like last week he takes a seat in the corner, then begins to move the chess pieces to the positions they were in when he left last week.
Jim arrives just as he is setting the black queen into place on the second level. "Hey," he says, smiling.
"Good evening," Spock returns. Jim is early as well; there are still five minutes to go until the scheduled start time, and only six or seven members of the club are currently present.
"I see you've set up the board," Jim continues. Even after over a year among humans, Spock still does not understand their need to state the obvious. He watches as Jim rummages in his bag and pulls out a PADD. "Mind if I check your work?"
Spock tilts his head. "If you feel it necessary."
Jim looks from the board to the PADD and back several times, then nods. "Looks right to me." He shoves the PADD back into his bag and slides into the chair opposite Spock. "I believe it was your move?" He laces his fingers together on the table and leans towards Spock. "As I recall, you were about to take my bishop."
"Indeed," Spock replies. He has had a week to consider Jim's comment about having a plan and, after realising that he cannot rule out the possibility, has come up with a plan of his own. "I was."
With that he reaches out and, instead of taking Jim's bishop, moves his knight back to better protect his king. He sits back and glances up to meet Jim's eyes, giving him a challenging look.
Jim studies the board. "Well, I wasn't expecting that," he says. "I guess my bishop lives to fight another day."
Spock frowns. "Why do you speak of the pieces as though they are alive?" It is not the first such comment Jim has made.
Jim appears to consider the question. "I play better if I can pretend there are real consequences to my actions. It keeps me focused."
"That is not logical," Spock replies.
Jim smiles. "We humans rarely are." He goes back to studying the board, and after a few moments moves the contested bishop down a level to threaten Spock's second knight.
Spock considers the situation for one point two seconds, decides that the knight is an acceptable sacrifice, and renews his attack on Jim's king.
After a lengthy battle, Spock finally admits defeat. "It seems you have bested me," he says as he tips his king. Tilting his head, he adds, "I am curious. What was your plan had I taken your bishop?"
To his surprise, Jim shrugs. "I didn't have one," he says simply, and smiles. "I hoped you'd think I had one and change your mind about attacking. And it worked."
Spock stares at him for a moment, speechless. "You tricked me."
Jim shrugs again. "I don't like to lose." But his smile washes away any annoyance Spock might feel. "Look at it this way," he adds, placing the offending bishop back in its rightful place, "you'll know better than to fall for it next time."
"Indeed," Spock replies. He finds he is looking forward to learning more about James Kirk.
* * *
The next week Spock is unexpectedly delayed leaving his room and arrives at the chess club slightly later than he intended to. He is mildly surprised to find Jim sitting opposite an Andorian, already several moves into a game. Jim glances up long enough to give him a wave and an apologetic look, and Spock gives himself a mental shake. It is his own fault for being late, and besides, the original point of this exercise was to make contact with multiple humans, something he has been somewhat remiss at so far.
He looks around for a possible alternate partner before settling on a dark-haired girl sitting a few tables away. He makes his way over and clears his throat gingerly as she looks up. "May I join you?"
She nods, looking surprised. "I… suppose." She gives him a timid smile and adds, "I'm not very good."
"You are a beginner?" Spock asks, and she nods. "Then there is no shame in being less adept than other players. You must give yourself time."
Her smile becomes a little stronger. "Thanks," she says. "That actually helps." She holds out a hand. "I'm Lauren."
Spock stares at the hand, wondering what to do. He has found humans often react badly when he refuses to shake their hand, but the thought of doing so is not appealing. Lauren has shown no signs of bigotry so far, though, so he decides to decline. "Vulcans do not shake hands."
Sure enough, all she does is pull back the hand with a faintly embarrassed expression. "Oh, sorry. I didn't know that."
"No offence was taken," Spock replies. He picks up a couple of pieces and begins placing them in their correct places on the board. "Shall we play?"
The experience is worlds away from playing with Jim. True to Lauren's words, she is not a particularly adept player, and Spock wins their first game in less than twenty moves. He reaches out to reset the board, then pauses as he takes in Lauren's expression. She is studying the board, eyebrows set in a deep frown.
Spock clears his throat uncomfortably, unsure of the proper etiquette for such a situation but feeling he should say something. "Would you like me to show you where you went wrong?" he asks.
She glances up at him and nods, giving him a brief smile. Spock reaches for the pieces, feeling slightly pleased that he not only correctly identified the cause of her distress, but may have helped to alleviate it. He takes her through the moves of their brief game, pointing out the flaws in her strategy, including several he remembers from when he was first learning.
She nods, taking it all in, and then demands a rematch. This time the game lasts more than fifty moves.
* * *
It may not be as stimulating as playing with Jim would have been, but Lauren is a quick learner, and Spock finds he almost enjoys teaching her. It is so long since anyone has looked to him for advice, and she seems genuinely grateful for the help.
"I can't believe how much I've learned tonight," she says at the end of the night. "My brother tried teaching me once, and he said I was hopeless."
"He was wrong," Spock says simply, and she smiles.
They are interrupted by Jim's arrival at their table. "Hey, Spock," he says, shifting his bag on his shoulder.
"Hello, Jim," Spock replies. "Have you met Lauren?"
Jim turns as if realising for the first time that they are not alone. "Oh, hi," he says, holding out a hand. "I'm Jim." He gives her a bright smile.
"Lauren," she replies, taking the proffered hand. "Spock's been helping me learn chess. He's a really good teacher." She glances at her watch and curses, jumping up and grabbing her bag. "Sorry, I have to go. I'm supposed to be meeting my roommate." She throws Spock a quick, "Thanks for the help, see you next week," before leaving the room in a rush.
With the sudden disappearance of Lauren, Spock finds Jim's attention falling back on him. "So, apparently you're a good teacher," Jim says, looking at Spock as if he's some kind of puzzle to be solved. "I didn't know that."
Spock considers mentioning that he was not aware of it himself, but decides not to. Instead he says, "There was nothing for me to teach you."
Jim beams at Spock. "Coming from you, that's high praise," he says, then shifts his bag again, looking nervous. "Actually, I wanted to ask you, if you're not busy…" he takes a breath, continuing, "I thought since we didn't get to play tonight, you might want to come back to my room and play a game there."
Spock stares at Jim. No one has ever invited him to their room before. "I would like that."
Jim's smile becomes even brighter, something that Spock would not have thought possible. "Great. That's great." He motions to the door. "Shall we?"
Spock follows him out of the building and across campus to Jim's dorm. Spock notes that it is in almost the exact opposite direction to his own. Jim's room is on the third floor, number 325.
"My roommate's staying over at his girlfriend's," Jim says as he taps in the code for the door, "so we'll have the place to ourselves." He stands aside as the door slides open and ushers Spock in before him.
Spock is glad of the information. As a Vulcan, he has been assigned a single room, and it slipped his mind that the usual state of things is for cadets to be assigned two to a room. Sure enough, the room is set up with two beds, two desks, and two dressers, one on each side of the room. Spock observes that one side of the room is considerably neater than the other.
"What is your roommate's name?" he asks with curiosity.
Jim sits down on one of the beds; the one on the neater side, Spock notes. "Ben," he answers. "He's a decent guy, but he's not really around much." He tilts his head at Spock. "What about yours?"
"My roommate?" Spock questions.
"I do not have one."
Jim looks impressed. "Must be nice," he says, then rubs his hands together. "So. You came here to play chess." He gets up and begins rummaging under the bed. "Let me just get the board set up, and I can start beating the pants off you."
"I do not believe that is possible," Spock says, and Jim laughs.
"It's just a figure of speech, Spock." He reappears with the sections of a 3D board in one hand and a box of chess pieces in the other. "Help me set this up, will you?"
Spock accepts the sections of board from him and takes them over to the desk to set up. Jim drags a chair over from Ben's side of the room and sits down next to him before opening the box and starting to divide the pieces into their two groups. Spock notes that the pieces are hand carved from some kind of crystal, and pauses in his work to pick up a knight and study it. The attention to detail is impressive. "Where did you get these?" he asks.
Jim looks up, his eyes resting on the knight in Spock's hand. "From my granddad," he says. "He carved them himself."
Spock turns the knight over absently, and raises an eyebrow when he finds letters carved on the underside. "JRD," he says out loud.
Jim nods. "My mom's dad; James Robert Davis. I was named after him." He pauses, briefly, then adds, "He passed away a few years ago."
"I grieve with thee," Spock says quietly, carefully placing the knight back on the table. "His work is excellent."
Jim gives him a brief smile. "Thanks," he says quietly, before taking a deep breath and adding more strongly, "Want me to help you with the board?"
Spock realises he is slacking and hastily clicks the last few boards into place. "Unnecessary," he replies, and Jim's smile becomes more genuine. "Are you taking the black or white pieces?"
"I thought black," Jim says. "I could do with the challenge." He sighs and adds, "That Andorian was hopeless. I had to keep reminding him how the pieces moved, and then he nearly threw a fit when I beat him."
Spock suddenly feels very glad for Lauren's easy acceptance.
Jim smiles and adds, "I much prefer playing with you."
Spock finds himself momentarily speechless. He busies himself with putting the pieces onto the boards, and after a moment Jim begins doing the same.
The game goes much the same as their previous ones, both of them trying out gambits and counter gambits in an attempt to catch each other out. The difference is that Jim seems intent on engaging him in conversation as they play. He seems genuinely interested, so Spock does not think it is a trick, but after last week he is not willing to rule anything out.
Most of Jim's questions revolve around what it is like to be a second year, and Spock learns with some interest that Jim has already tested out of several of the first year classes. It was obvious from the first time they met that Jim was intelligent, but their conversation quickly reveals an extremely driven and disciplined individual. Jim has a clear plan for his future and is prepared to do anything to make it happen. It is a philosophy Spock can relate to.
"I've been wondering," Jim begins hesitantly, frowning as Spock's queen takes his rook. "What made you decide to join Starfleet?"
Spock tenses involuntarily, fingers tightening around the captured rook. "It seemed the most profitable use of my skills," he replies. The truth… mostly.
"And it isn't hard, being so far away from your family?" Jim asks.
This conversation is quickly heading into areas Spock would prefer not to explore. "It is not an issue," he says shortly.
Something close to hurt flashes across Jim's face, but he quickly recovers. "No, I suppose it wouldn't be," he says quietly. "Sorry I asked."
Spock suppresses a sigh. Perhaps he was too harsh. "It is not your fault," he says. "My family situation is… complicated."
Jim looks mildly soothed by the words. "Oh. Well. I know what that's like." He shakes his head. "My own brother's barely spoken to me since I told him I was joining Starfleet."
"Why?" Spock asks, before it occurs to him that he is doing exactly what he was frustrated at Jim for.
Jim doesn't seem to mind, however. "Our dad was away a lot when I was a kid, and Sam – that's my brother – he blames Starfleet for it. He wasn't exactly happy when I decided to follow in Dad's footsteps."
Empathy wells up in Spock's chest, and before he can think better of it, he admits, "My father's reaction was much the same."
The two of them just stare at each other for a long moment, before the corners of Jim's mouth curve upwards slightly. "Sucks, doesn't it?" he says quietly.
The words are tinged with bitterness, and Spock lets out a breath, feeling strangely comforted by the idea that Jim might, in some way, understand what joining Starfleet has cost him. "Indeed," he agrees. "It is a somewhat unpleasant situation."
Jim gives him a brief smile, then shakes his head and changes the subject. "So, what other clubs are you in? I'm thinking of joining the history club, but there's this extra class with Professor Benson I'd like to take, and I'm not sure I'll have time for both."
That subject takes them through to the end of the game. Spock wins, and Jim looks rueful as he tips his king. "I'd demand a rematch, but it's getting late," he says.
"I understand," Spock says. He pushes back his chair and stands. Jim does likewise.
"Thank you for coming over," Jim says. "This was fun."
"It was no problem," Spock replies. "I, too, found it pleasant." He hesitates briefly, then adds, "I would not be averse to a repeat performance."
A smile spreads across Jim's face, making his eyes light up. "I'd really like that," he says. "Next week?"
Spock nods. "I shall see you then," he says, and leaves.
As he makes his way back across the grounds to his room, Spock's mind is still focused on his evening with Jim. He has never spent time recreationally with another being like this before, and he is surprised at how rewarding it can be.
He wonders if this is what it feels like to have a friend.