He cannot win by adhering to the Vulcan way. No matter how careful he is, how logical--no matter how neatly he combs his hair or how long he practices arching one skeptical eyebrow, then the other--no Vulcan will ever accept him as one of them. He learns this shortly after his kahs-wan when he overhears his father's parents saying with relief that he could pass, if he had to; they had been afraid, when he was younger, that he would take after his mother.
He cannot win by rebelling against it, either. No matter how clearly he explains that full Vulcans feel the same rage and fear and love that he does--no matter how obviously his father adores his mother--no matter how illogical it is to deny one's own inner truth--neither his tutors, nor his father, nor even wise old T'Pau will heed him. He spends his fourteenth year furiously trying to make his father see that Sarek is angry at him; that Sarek is ashamed of him. His father listens with self-righteous incomprehension. He is calm and reasonable. Spock sounds like a hysterical child, and it doesn't matter to anyone that he is right.
His fifteenth year he stops caring. He's going to Earth when he's older. He's going to the Starfleet Academy. He will be understood, there.
It's not until he's at the Academy that the other half of that particular no-win scenario becomes apparent. He might not be Vulcan, but he isn't human, either. And his ears are only the most visible thing that mark him as alien; his years of Vulcan training set him apart even more effectively. He doesn't know how to make friends in the human way. He doesn't know how to make friends at all.
Spock's trying to sort out yet another no-win scenario. Does he allow himself to be pummeled by a group of cadets? Or does he defeat them, only to have his victory attributed (accurately) to his superior Vulcan strength and then categorized as unsporting? Which will make him the greater target in future?
In the end, his list of pros and cons is irrelevant. Another student intervenes--an obviously, glowingly human boy who ends up with a split lip but doesn't seem to care. "I'm Jim Kirk," he announces. "How would you like to be friends?"
Jim has never faced a no-win scenario, apart from the occasional girl who won't sleep with him. He's never found a situation he couldn't charm, talk, or karate-chop his way out of.
Spock knows it's illogical to resent this. The result is the confidence that allows Jim so blithely to befriend the Academy's most conspicuous pariah, after all. Nevertheless, he has to struggle to appear sympathetic the first time Jim faces the Kobayashi Maru.
He does it, though. He nods and murmurs and explains to Jim that how we deal with failure is as important as how we deal with success. He hints, indirectly, at how he himself deals with such situations: he tries to accept impossibilities with grace and to allow no one to see how much he cares. That, too, can be a victory.
Jim pays no attention to any of this. Spock wonders, a little awestruck, if Jim berated his examiners with this same red-faced, immutable rage.
The second time Jim fails the Kobayashi Maru, Spock says nothing. He only listens and tries not to smile. There is something endearing, something refreshingly honest, about Jim's stubbornness and denial, and how much he needs Spock to witness it.
The night before his third Kobayashi Maru, Jim wakes Spock up shortly before midnight. They're roommates now. "I've got it!" he says. His eyes are dancing and his face is flushed.
Spock's pulse quickens. This is his latest no-win scenario: does he confess his desire and transform his only real, easy friendship into an awkward, pitying parody of itself? Or does he conceal it and poison the friendship with silence and resentment instead?
"I just need you to reprogram the computers so I can save the ship," Jim says.
Spock thinks it over. It's actually a surprisingly neat solution to the problem. "You want to cheat," he says neutrally. He doesn't care how Jim responds; cheating is not viewed on Vulcan as it is on Earth. In fact, the word has no Vulcan equivalent; the closest would be "plagiarism." All paths to knowledge are worthy, and Vulcan notions of academic honor progress along different lines. He merely wants to know whether Jim has thought this through, small miracle though that would be.
Sure enough, Jim waves a hand impatiently. "It's not cheating. It's outsmarting the test, that's all."
Spock raises an eyebrow. "I believe I will be doing most of the outsmarting."
Jim grins at him. "You're a genius, Spock. I'll pay you back however you like, just get out of bed."
Spock is reading quietly in their quarters when Jim returns from his exam. He is pretending not to be waiting for news. Jim bursts in, beaming with joy. Spock stands, book forgotten--and Jim seizes him in a bear hug, squeezes him tight. "I did it!"
Spock pulls back--Jim barely relinquishes his hold. "We did it."
"Yes, of course, we." He says it as if the difference between "I" and "we" is negligible. Semantics. It's now or never. Spock kisses him.
"Wh--what are you doing?"
Spock raises an eyebrow. "Celebrating," he says dryly.
"Spock--? Do you mean--?"
Spock raises his other eyebrow. His heart is pounding in his abdomen in highly un-Vulcan fashion.
There's a moment of silence. Jim looks uncertain--and then he draws Spock to him, a hand on his waist and a hand on the back of his neck as if he were a girl. Confused by Spock's height, Jim misses his mouth on the first try.
A moment later, Jim is kissing him in what he no doubt fondly imagines to be a masterful fashion. Spock allows himself to be mastered. His hands are clammy and joy is a bubble in his throat.
It would appear that sometimes it is possible to win, after all.