A/N – Kirk and Spock talk over chess.
Disclaimer – I don't own Star Trek, any of the canon characters, situations or settings. No money was made in the writing of this.
It is late into the ship's night, but Kirk cannot sleep.
Restless, he drifts through the almost deserted corridors, trailing his fingertips along the bulkheads, imagining the ship's thrumming energy responding to his touch. He'd served on a number of starships during his career, most of them Constitution class, but Enterprise is his ship; no longer an illusion or a cherished dream, but titanium-and-circuitry reality.
His ship. His crew. His responsibility.
Aimless, he heads into the main rec room, where the scattered crewmen do not quite jump to attention – starship crews are the elite of Starfleet, and discipline is less formal than ancient navies – but the atmosphere becomes subdued in acknowledgment of his presence.
This, he thinks, is the isolation of command.
The senior officers' lounge is smaller, quieter. Like the crewmen in the rec room, the few occupants acknowledge his presence, but less obviously, with less constraint; he is grateful for it, and something in him eases.
He looks for Mitchell. Despite Gary's occasional jagged edges, despite his own competitiveness, their friendship has lasted more than ten years: Kirk wants a familiar companion now, someone who sees Jim Kirk, not the Captain. Instead he finds Spock, analysing a 3D chess puzzle over steepled fingertips.
"May I sit with you, Mr. Spock?" he asks, when he has made his way over to the dimly lit corner table. "I'm not interrupting you, am I?"
Spock's Vulcan reserve is formidable. Kirk's practiced smile has no visible effect on his first officer; most often his attempts to charm and beguile are met by stony indifference and deadpan logic.
"You are not interrupting, Captain," Spock answers. "I was merely contemplating Marduk's 47th Variation."
"Oh?" Kirk slides into the seat opposite him. "I didn't know there was a 47th variation. I've read his treatise on end games, of course... Are you fond of chess, Mr Spock?"
He is treated to a supercilious Vulcan eyebrow. "Vulcans are not 'fond' of anything, Captain."
"Of course not. Please forgive me."
"It is an exercise in logic and analytical thinking. The Vulcan Science Academy approves of its use for both educational and recreational purposes."
"Mm-hmm." Despite all his efforts, Kirk can't restrain a tiny smile. "And do you often get a chance to play on board?"
"Most of the time I play against the computer, Captain. I find the calibre of opponents on the Enterprise to be..."
"Lacking? I imagine most of us poor humans would be, when measured against your Vulcan logic. Still, perhaps you and I should play, Mr. Spock. I am accounted a fairly decent opponent."
Spock gives him a long, assessing look. Kirk can almost see the logical gears turning behind his eyes. "I look forward to it, Captain."
They talk of many things over the chessboard.
They speak of their mission, exploration and discovery on the edges of unmapped space, pushing the boundaries of Vulcan knowledge and human imagination. They speak of the Enterprise, Spock outlining the systems and processes that hold everything together. He speaks of the crew as a single organism neatly divided into stations and teams and departments, all reporting upwards to him as First Officer and ultimately to the Captain.
Kirk does not think of the crew in such clinical terms. He has served his time as First Officer, knows the processes and the systems; he also knows the intangible, unquantifiable value of morale, and the emotional, entirely illogical needs of individual humans.
Spock does not. Kirk hopes that this does not become a problem in the future.
Still, there is a strange ease in speaking to the Vulcan, who does not needle or challenge as Mitchell does. He is utterly, sometimes maddeningly literal; there are times when Kirk suspects that Spock is secretly laughing at him, but he simply can't be sure.
It is nothing at all like speaking to another human.
After two knock-down, drag-out, viciously contested games of chess (Spock playing with brutal, implacable logic, and Kirk with desperate irrationality and occasional flashes of brilliance) Kirk is sure of two things: matching wits with Spock is intriguing, challenging and downright exhausting, and behind his inscrutable facade, the Vulcan was, indeed, laughing at him.
It is only later, as he staggers back to his bed, yawning and half-asleep, that Kirk realises that there had not been an ounce of constraint between them. After the initial fencing, they had spoken together like partners, like equals.