Kirk misses Gary Mitchell - he will never stop missing Gary Mitchell - but he's constantly grateful for his new XO. Lieutenant-Commander Spock is the most efficient officer he's ever worked with, and despite grumbling from the lower decks he's actually fairly likeable. Not exactly warm or welcoming, but that's Vulcans for you. But his smooth logic is a touchstone in hard situations, always unbiased, and the man himself is dependable to a fault. And Kirk has recently discovered that the Vulcan is always 'agreeable' to a challenging game of chess, so their discussions - now invariably taking place across a chessboard - have lost the uncomfortable degree of formality that was once characteristic.
That being said, Kirk doesn't think they'll ever be friends.
It's nothing personal, of course. But Kirk hears lower officers whispering about their 'friendship' - all because Kirk is comfortable talking to the man! - and doesn't quite understand. He's not sure, honestly, if one can be friends with a Vulcan. Friendship, by its very nature, implies an emotional tie, a reciprocal bond. He does not have any such bond with Spock, unless one considers their mutual appreciation of strategy and efficiency.
Right now, for example, he is heading toward Spock's quarters for a chess game while they discuss reports. Kirk hears it is unprecedented for anyone to be invited to the Vulcan's quarters, but doubtlessly it was a 'logical' venue for one reason or another. He doesn't think much of it.
Then he enters Spock's room.
The color is the first thing that leaps out - deep red, accentuated with the well-polished silver of antique weapons that hang on the wall. A flickering candle flame casts shadows over the ghoulish face of a small statuette, and an string-instrument of some sort hangs carefully on the opposite wall.
There is also a menorah.
Kirk has been expecting something Spartan, but he can accept the alien trappings, the statue, the instrument. It's the menorah - small and dented and innocuous, sitting on a small out-of-the-way shelf below the harp-like instrument - that traps him.
"Computer, set temperature to ship-normal."
The deep voice jerks Kirk back to himself. He looks over to Spock, standing in the center of the room. "Captain?" Spock prompts.
"You don't have to do that, Mr. Spock," he says, trying to recover. "These are your quarters, after all."
"As a Vulcan, I am capable of controlling my internal temperature. It is therefore logical to keep the environment appropriate for your physiology."
It's always hard to argue when Spock pulls out the Vulcan card, so Kirk doesn't even bother trying to object; he knows a losing battle when he sees one.
They discuss the upcoming crew rosters quietly over a sedate game of chess, but Kirk's eyes keep wandering. Eventually he can't help himself, and asks, "What is that?"
Spock turns to follow his gesture. "A menorah," he says, unfazed.
"But is there a purpose for it? On Vulcan?"
Spock looks at him quizzically. "It is a Terran object. Are you unfamiliar with it?"
"No. I mean. I just wondered if there's something identical on Vulcan. With a different - purpose."
"There is not."
"Then - " he waves his hand uselessly. " - Why do you have it?"
He feels a little ridiculous now, and half-regrets asking. But Spock does not seem offended, only curious. "You are aware that I have human ancestry," he points out.
"It is an heirloom."
This... makes sense. Not entirely; Kirk has 'heirlooms', like a weird collection of old earth watches, that are currently rotting away in a storage facility on earth. If a man takes something into the sparse quarters of a starship, it has meaning.
But this is Spock, and Kirk doesn't want to push his luck by asking about anything personal. So he settles for saying, "I see," even though he does not, and changes the subject.
"Spock has human heirlooms," Kirk tells McCoy. "I'm not sure why that strikes me as odd, but I can't stop thinking about it."
"Well, he is half-human. Even if he doesn't act it."
"Half-human?" Kirk demands incredulously.
McCoy stares. "Don't act like you don't know - I've heard you mention it before."
"I knew he had human ancestors, but I assumed maybe his great-great-great grandfather was Vulcan, or something. That's much different than being half-human."
"Honestly, I think he likes to leave that impression. Doesn't exactly talk about his personal life much, does he?"
"Of course not," Kirk says, and means to follow that with, Vulcan never do, but the words catch. After a beat he says, "He was raised Vulcan."
"I don't think that's any reason to deny half of himself."
"Who says he's denying anything? He lives how he was raised. Vulcan culture is all he knows."
"He's lived more years with humans now than with Vulcans."
"He's been in Starfleet twenty years, not living on Earth."
"Is there a difference?" McCoy asks. "I don't know if you've noticed this, Jim, but that 'Vulcan' is the only non-human aboard. The flagship of the United Federation of Planets, and we have half an alien. There's representation for you! If Spock wants to be Vulcan, he should join the Intrepid."
"It's that sort of attitude that stops people from joining the primary fleet in the first place," Kirk snaps.
"Maybe. Doesn't matter. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, Jim, and I doubt it'll ever change." McCoy shrugs, dismissing the subject. "Anyway, we were talking about Spock. I'm just saying, if Spock's so eager to join a human vessel he might as well fess up and act human."
"He can act however he wants," Kirk says, and his tone closes the conversation. But he wonders.
"About the menorah," Kirk prompts.
"Are you Jewish?"
Spock raises an eyebrow. Sometimes this expression makes Kirk feel a little foolish, but today, looking at the Vulcan, he thinks Spock might seem almost... amused? Or is he imagining things? "That would depend on one's definition of the term 'Jewish'. But if you mean to ask if I believe in an omniscient and abstract god, the answer is no." And then, as if Kirk could forget: "I am Vulcan."
It's hard to argue, Kirk thinks for the second time in as many days, when Spock pulls out the Vulcan card.
But maybe, sometimes, he should argue anyway.
"You just said it depends on your definition of the term. What other definition is there?"
Spock considers him. "Technically, Judaism can also be considered a cultural or ethnic identity. In cases wherein only one of two parents is Jewish, then by this definition the offspring assumes the status of the mother. Who, in my case, is Jewish."
So Spock's mother is human. But - "That still doesn't explain the menorah."
Spock looks at the menorah, old and rusted and covered with dents. But he gestures instead to the wall, upon which the obsolete weapons Kirk had noticed earlier still rest. A testament to bygone days and Vulcan's bloody history. "Traditions are important in Vulcan culture," he says. "We keep the memories of the past alive, and we never forget."
"I think I was wrong about him. I think we could be friends. Hell, maybe we already are and I'm the last to know. But I like him."
"I can't see it. He's too Vulcan. You can't be friends with a Vulcan."
"It was never about him being Vulcan," Kirk says. "Just - different. I needed to see that we're the same, in some ways."
McCoy looks skeptical. "If you say so, Jim. But I'm not so sure. He just seems so dang disgusted by earth customs."
"That's going a little far."
"You know he doesn't even plan to come to the next Christmas party? No one's asking him to smile or act happy - he won't even attend."
Kirk grins. "Well of course not, Bones. He's Jewish!"
To his dying day, Kirk will never forget McCoy's expression.
(The next morning, Kirk goes over the list of Starfleet members and requests a transfer for a highly-recommended Caitian Lieutenant by the name of M'Ress. It's not much, he thinks. But it's a start).