AN: This is the only chapter with such an OC focus - after this we get a lot more Kirk, McCoy and Enterprise. Not intended as a romance, but feel free to interpret as you wish. Any feedback welcome.
Chapter 1: Lyra
It is a misunderstanding that introduces them or, rather, a mishearing on her part. Spock is talking to a brash young cadet of his own age, whose incessant and unintelligent questions on the subject of Spock's home planet are beginning to grate.
"Yes, there are many different musical instruments on Vulcan," he answers patiently. He has been fielding questions from this particular cadet for near an hour now, but even in the face of irritating and illogical humans, a Vulcan must not display annoyance. "I, for example, play the lyre."
"Yes?" It is another fresh-faced cadet who speaks. She sits on a table parallel to theirs and turns in her seat to face them. The Starfleet Academy canteen is crowded and, many years later, Spock considers it rather remarkable that she happened to be sitting behind them on this particular day and during this particular conversation. "Do I know you?"
Both Spock and his unwelcome companion stare, one with a tilted, questioning eyebrow and the other with a look of pure, gormless confusion.
"Sorry I- I thought- you did say my name, didn't you? Lyra?"
The confusion resolves itself quickly and with much laughter on the part of the two humans. Spock does not take much interest in the resulting conversation, though he is fascinated by the persistent pink undertone of Lyra's skin. His mother was not one to blush easily and he had not quite realised that a human's embarrassment might manifest in this way. This is unimportant, he thinks, but in the years that follow he comes to alter his opinion on the matter.
The first two and a half weeks of Starfleet Academy are overwhelming. This, Spock decides, is not an emotional response. It is an immutable truth. He had expected the influx of emotion from being in close proximity to such a large contingent of humans and had worked hard to shore up his mental shields in preparation; he had not expected the fervour with which these emotional Starfleet recruits would attempt to 'make friends' with him. It is, he supposes, logical. Most join Starfleet to interact with new species and civilisations, so of course they would want to befriend one of the few aliens in the Academy. Nevertheless, the constant process of befriending-cum-interrogation leaves Spock thoroughly exhausted.
The first day that he enters the canteen and no one approaches him, he confesses himself relieved. In earlier weeks, newer cadets were distinguishable from the older by their sprawling formation, but Spock sees now that they have formed into more cohesive groups. Eventually the groups will solidify and cease to mix. Spock fails to appreciate that the empty table he chooses, in a far and shadowy corner of the canteen, will become his own 'regular spot'.
He quells the disappointment that comes when he realises the solitude he so craves is not to be granted at this time.
"I don't know if you remember me, I'm-"
"Lyra," he supplies. Where before he may have pointed out that Vulcans possess eidetic memory, he decides he does not wish to repeat a conversation he has already had with twelve humans in the last week alone. "I remember."
"Can I sit here?" she gestures to the seat across from him, raising her tray of food as though in demonstration. "I'm eating a salad."
"I do not see how that is relevant."
Another delicate, pink flush appears in her cheeks and she stammers as she did on that first day. "S- sorry, I thought- I- aren't Vulcans vegetarians?"
This takes him by surprise and he cannot prevent an incremental widening of his eyes. His eyes, so he has been told several times by tutors on Vulcan, are what most betray the human in him. "Affirmative, but I have no aversion to meat being consumed in front of me. If I were unable to come to terms with such a compromise, Starfleet would have been an unwise career path."
She laughs, though Spock cannot see anything amusing in what he has said, and sits. The pink is fading. "Sorry, I didn't think."
"On the contrary, you were thinking in some depth about my culture. Your conclusion, though incorrect, was quite logically reached." He hesitates. The sentiment he expresses next may be unwise, but as he said just now it is necessary to invoke the spirit of compromise in order to fully experience another culture. And he is, after all, half human. "I believe the human expression is, 'Thank you'?"
She blinks, so that Spock thinks at first he may have misspoken. Then she smiles, widely, and responds, 'You're welcome.'
They are not 'friends' in the way Spock believes most humans would classify it. They eat lunch together often, though not regularly, and compared to the cadets in his classes and corridor, Spock finds her presence unobtrusive. At times their conversation is even stimulating.
"Why did you join Starfleet?"
Spock has noticed that when humans wish to speak about themselves, they will often begin the conversation by asking the other person something similarly personal. He neither understands this nor wishes to discuss his controversial career choice, so simply responds, "The concept of discovering new planets and cultures intrigues me on a scientific basis." Then, because he feels this is what he should do, "Why did you join Starfleet?"
She pushes her salad around the plate. He cannot blame her; they have already discussed the unpalatable nature of the replicated canteen food. Lyra was raised on an agricultural earth colony on Slednik III, she revealed during that discussion, and is used to fresh food. Spock told her of his mother's love of fresh Vulcan produce in return.
"I keep asking myself that question." She huffs a laugh and repeats something Spock has heard many cadets, first-year and otherwise, complain, "I mean, the workload is so huge! I was up until 4AM last night finishing an essay. I'm exhausted!"
The human response would be to laugh or perhaps to reciprocate the sentiment. Spock says blandly, "Vulcans require less sleep than humans."
The issue of work does not arise again.
The issue of home is something that arises many times.
"Do you miss Vulcan?"
"I am incapable of that emotion."
Lyra chuckles, a little incredulous. She doesn't blush in front of him any more, which he cautiously theorises is a sign that she is more relaxed with him, thought the evidence for this theory is minimal as they have spoken less and less as term continues.
"I miss home," she admits. "When I was there I felt trapped, but now I'm here I-" Her eyes drop to another barely-eaten salad. "Sorry. You don't want to hear about that. How are your classes? You had, um... was it flight simulation today?"
Later, Spock wonders if he should have indulged her human emotion.
"On Vulcan the temperature is much higher," he informs her stiffly one day in December when she cannot help but giggle at the beanie hat perched on his head and encircling the tips of his ears. "My mother sent me the hat and I thought it was only logical to wear it, given the unusually cold weather San Francisco has been experiencing recently."
Lyra's giggle develops into a full-blown belly laugh. Spock is alarmed when her eyes begin to water with the force of the emotional outburst.
"I haven't laughed like that in a long time," she hiccoughs, when the fit has finally ended. Then she sees Spock's expression of Vulcan panic and the ordeal begins again.
"It's hot on Slednik III at this time of year as well," she tells him the next day, this time wearing her own beanie along with matching gloves and scarf, as though in apology. "Not as hot as Vulcan I don't think, but we have beautiful beaches."
She talks at length about the beaches and, despite the sentimentality of her description, Spock listens attentively and does not interrupt until it is time for his next class.
"Were you home for the holidays?" He mimics the question he has heard many cadets ask one another following the winter break.
Expressed emotions are an important part of human culture, so Spock adds, "Did you enjoy it?"
"I suppose so." She puts her chin in her hand. "Does it ever frighten you how big the universe is?"
"Vulcans are not-"
"Capable of that emotion." She doesn't smile, but her tone is understanding. "Of course not."
He helps her with a warp mechanics essay the next time he sees her.
"I've been ill recently," she explains. There are pinched, purple shadows that highlight the thinnest part of her nose's bridge, directly between her two eyes. "I fell behind, that's all."
It is no hardship to explain the lecture material to her and certainly does not warrant the fervent thank yous offered afterwards.
Their last conversation is unremarkable, in all but one detail. As they are putting their trays away, Lyra smiles.
"You are a very good friend, Mr Spock." His mental shields bend and snap beneath the sheer and palpable euphoria emanating from her. He is so taken aback that he does not even think to respond to the comment of friendship. "Goodbye."
He mumbles a quick farewell, and near sprints from the canteen to meditate. Two days later, he learns that she has killed herself.
"You must be Spock." At Lyra's funeral, her father identifies Spock by his Vulcan features. Lyra's mother passed away when she was eleven years old. "Thank you for being here. I know you were a real friend to my daughter."
You are a very good friend, Mr Spock.
He excuses himself and leaves the funeral early.
A week later he goes to the canteen, sits across from an empty space, and listens. On the table behind him Lyra's partner on a xenolinguistics project tells her friends that Lyra always stammered and got embarrassed in classes when the teacher asked her any questions. A boy on that same table lived in the room opposite Lyra's floor, says he saw her from to time but mostly she kept to herself. Another boy, two tables away, says he met her only twice, both at parties when she was drunk and distraught. The boy next to him puts the theory forward that she may have killed herself because of the pressure of schoolwork. A different table, populated by people who have never met or spoken to Lyra, reflect on how horrible it must be to be so far from home with no friends to rely on.
Spock marvels at the human tendency to gossip. He had thought he was coming to understand such thought processes and habits, but every human he hears seems to see some logic in Lyra's suicide. The justification for it lies in the emotion - the sadness, the low self-esteem, the loneliness. Spock reaffirms that the Vulcan way must be followed in order to avoid such intense emotion, and such senseless fallout
Yet there is a flaw to this verdict that bothers Spock no matter how deeply he meditates. Perhaps emotion is the flaw here, but if Spock himself had shown more human compassion to Lyra, might things have been different? He spends more time than he will ever admit wondering if it was Lyra's human emotion, or his own Vulcan coldness, which led to this outcome. By the time he graduates from Starfleet he has come no closer to a satisfactory conclusion.