Spock could apply very few labels to Captain James Tiberius Kirk with any certainty. Once a personality trait was recognized and firmly logged within his memory, it was very likely to be contradicted at the next opportunity. He had made the mistake early on in their acquaintance of disregarding the man as the stereotypical, arrogant degenerate. Then the man went and saved Earth. That was only the first example in a long line of frustrating, and yet fascinating, contradictions.
On one point, Spock was certain: Captain Kirk was an enigma. Spock had always had a weakness for puzzles. With those two facts in mind, his near obsession with his commanding officer was almost logical.
"Damn, it's hot." Kirk jiggled his knee restlessly underneath the table. He then paused to straighten his pant leg. The entire sequence inevitably repeated. Since moving their biweekly chess games to personal quarters, Kirk had developed a habit of psychomotor agitation. Yet, outside this particular environment, he never displayed such a nervous habit.
Spock attempted to form a hypothesis.
"I think you turn up the heat on purpose before I arrive," Kirk said with a lopsided grin. "Trying to throw me off my game? I hope not because, you know, that'd be cheating." He made a very ill-advised move with his rook. No doubt, there was a strategy to it. Spock's mind was far too linear to glean it. Still, he felt the compulsion to do so.
"Quite the opposite, captain."
"In fact, I lower the temperature in my quarters by 8 degrees centigrade when anticipating your arrival."
Spock made his own move, pulling his bishop to the second level of the 3-D chessboard. He was now attempting the Gibashane maneuver. Due to Kirk's unpredictability, he'd already had to abandon four other such strategies. He had little hope of this one following its natural course. The captain seemed intent on forcing Spock to improvise.
"It feels like it's a million degrees in here."
"Hyperbole. It is only 31 degrees centigrade."
"Like I said." Kirk seemed to move a pawn in line of Spock's bishop with flippancy. "Wait. You normally have it at 39 in here?"
"Yes, captain." Spock suspected that Kirk was setting the board into an elaborate trap. He delayed his next move in the effort of understanding it. Of course, it was also possible that the trick was in only the appearance of an elaborate deception. At times, it was exhausting to attempt to think like Kirk.
"It's Jim, remember. So, do you freeze your ass off normally on the rest of the ship?" The man laughed aloud for some inexplicable reason. "Don't even try acting like you don't know what I mean. I know you better than that."
"No. Though it is uncomfortable. Starfleet issues thermal undergarments for species native to warmer climates." Despite his best efforts, Spock could not glean any logic to Kirk's board configuration. He pressed his fingers together before him in order to reinforce his emotional control over a tide of annoyance that never made it to his face.
"Right. Right. I knew that."
Spock wondered why the man asked in the first place, if he did in fact know that information. However, he had found that often humans stored more information that could be accessed through recognition than through ready recall. This seemed quite inefficient and inferior to Vulcan memory but during their year as a pair, Nyota had taught him not to say things like that aloud. She informed him that such statements only inhibited communication. As that was her field of specialty, he did not doubt this.
"So I've been thinking." Kirk's agitation became more pronounced. He resettled his weight in his chair three times, cleared his throat, and scratched his nose. "We're good friends, right?"
Spock was unsure how to reply to such a statement and so, instead, waited for Kirk to continue.
"I mean, sometimes you even call me Jim now without me telling you. I like those times."
"Indeed." That was a most useful word, as it meant nothing at all. Kirk pulled on his ear in agitation. He seemed genuinely uncomfortable. Spock decided to be generous. "Would you care for something to drink, Jim?"
Kirk grinned. "Oh, that'd be fantastic. Yeah. Thanks." Spock got up and poured the man a glass of water. Kirk received it with eager hands. His face was unusually flushed. Perhaps the temperature was still too high for his comfort.
Spock adjusted the thermostat down another two degrees.
A rush of cool air entered the room through the air vents at the ceiling. Spock suppressed a shiver.
"Aw, man, you don't have to do that. These are your quarters."
Spock returned to his seat at the chessboard, across from Kirk. He made his move. "You were attempting a particular line of conversation?"
"Oh yeah." Kirk cleared his throat. He gave his glass of water a half-turn, and then corrected it. The incessant fidgeting was beginning to concern Spock. In the past, their conversations tended to calm the captain in most instances but the man was now exhibiting clear signs of distress. "So we've been friends for awhile. And I've been thinking about that. And how that's been affecting our command interactions."
Now Spock thought that he perhaps understood the increased fidgeting during their chess games and Kirk's inability to look him in the eye with this conversation. "I had not thought it had adversely affected our professional relationship. However, I understand if you wish to terminate our personal interactions."
"Wait, what?" Kirk looked alarmed and sat up straight in his chair. "That's not what I meant! I was thinking about how great our friendship has been for our professional relationship. Sometimes, it's like you know what I'm thinking. We take teamwork to a new level. Despite our age, I have no doubt that we're the best command team in the fleet right now."
"I see." In actuality, Spock did not precisely understand but when used as a turn of phrase, it was not technically a lie.
"So I was thinking about that, right, and umm," Kirk cleared his throat again, "how that's really one of the highlights of being on the Enterprise. For me. Working with you like that, I mean. And the friendship part, of course. Well, especially. I'd hate to lose that. It'd murder me. It's that important. I don't want that to change. But then I realized that I do. Because, as great as we are right now, I think – I know- we could be even better. Amazing really. And I don't mean just professionally. Actually, I really don't mean professionally. Because, professionally, let's admit it: we're the best. So I'm thinking behind the scenes. And stuff. " He finally took in fresh air. Spock was impressed that the entirety of that speech was made in a single breath. Kirk hazarded a glance at his eyes. "Know what I mean?"
Spock, most certainly, did not.
"You have no idea, do you?" Kirk looked crestfallen.
Spock could only answer honestly, though he had no desire to disappoint his friend further. "No, I do not."
Kirk put his face in his hands. "Man, this is so embarrassing," he muttered into his palms. "Look," he pulled his hands away from his face, "I'm just going to spit it out and if this goes horribly wrong, can we agree to pretend this conversation never happened?"
"If you wish, captain."
"No," Kirk said sharply, "it's really important you call me Jim right now."
"If you wish, Jim."
"OK, good. Because I really need you to know that however way this conversation goes, this has nothing to do with our working relationship." Kirk glanced at Spock's face again. "Even so, I'm still going to be breaking at least two regulations by even having this conversation with you."
"This would not be the first time," Spock remarked dryly. Kirk laughed. Only in the privacy of his own mind would Spock admit that that had been his intention. Yet, he was sure Kirk knew it was without telling.
"Yeah, we tend to do things our own way, huh?" Kirk looked like he was considering moving a chess piece but rethought it and refocused on Spock's face. "I was hoping we could apply that to our friendship too." Kirk continued to stare at Spock with an intensity in his eyes that sent Spock's mind rushing to identify it. "I really, really like you, Spock."
Finally, he understood.
Spock was not an idiot; he simply was not human. At times, behavior that might have been obvious to a human took more intensive deduction on his part. He wondered how obvious this had been. He would ask Nyota at a later point. Considering how subtle Kirk tended to be about anything, Spock suspected that Nyota would laugh at him.
It took him several moments to decide how he wished to respond to this revelation.
"You aren't saying anything, Spock." Kirk laughed nervously.
"I am attempting to formulate a proper reply."
"But you know what I mean?"
Kirk's smile seemed to waver a little. He glanced at the door, as if considering retreat, before squaring his shoulders and looking back at Spock. During this, Spock had not once removed his eyes from Kirk.
"Well, at least you aren't strangling me, so it's going a bit better than I feared."
Spock ignored that statement. He finally decided on how he would approach the situation. "You are only breaking one regulation with that confession, Jim."
"Oh?" Kirk appeared genuinely confused.
"Expressing non-platonic interest in a subordinate could be seen as sexual harassment."
Kirk flinched. "Yeah. And offering to conduct a romantic relationship while working together in direct line of command makes it two regulations."
"Technically, Jim, you have not extended such an offer."
"That's what I-"
"But I am," Spock said over Kirk's words. The man's jaw clicked shut with an audible snap. "So, we are both equally guilty of this infraction. I thought this best as, once rank is ignored, I do prefer to begin my romantic relationships based on equality."
"Right," Kirk muttered, eyes slightly bewildered but an undignified smile spreading on his face. "Wait, Spock, did you just-?"
Suddenly, the klaxons burst into their conversation announcing Red Alert. Both instantly assumed their command personas as Chekov's voice rang through the ship's intercom, summoning the Captain and First Officer to the bridge. Spock acknowledged the call for both of them on their way out his door. It was only as they were striding, in-step, to the lift that the captain seemed to regain his train of thought.
"Thanks, ensign," he said to the man that had held the lift open for them. The man saluted before heading for his own station. The doors closed on them as they sped to the bridge. He turned his full attention on Spock. The commander only watched the man from the edge of his vision. "Just so we are on the same page here," Kirk said, folding his arms and looking very pleased with himself, "we're carrying on an illicit, romantic relationship together now, right?"
Spock resisted the urge to sigh. It was an urge he only struggled with in this man's presence. "Yes, Jim."
Jim grinned as the lift doors opened to the chaos of the bridge. "Excellent."
Immediately, Spock had the opportunity to witness the captain's ease in the heat of battle. Consoles exploded. An ensign's sleeve caught fire. They lost the engine. However, Captain Kirk remained cool and composed as he recovered the situation and again saved the day. It appeared that propositioning his First Officer was more daunting than nearly losing the warp core in a ferocious altercation with Klingon pirates.
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