Jim glanced up from his PADD as the door to his room hissed open and Spock stepped inside.
“I apologize for my tardiness,” he said as he took the seat opposite Jim. His movements seemed a little stiffer than usual, almost excessively controlled.
“You’re fine. I had an essay I’ve been meaning to read for a while now anyway,” he said, waving a hand dismissively. With the number of times he had been late to their games for one reason or another, he could hardly hold it against Spock. “Everything alright?”
Once upon a time, the question would have prompted a raised eyebrow from Spock at the very least but now he simply nodded. “My mother called, and our conversation lasted longer than I expected.”
“Mind if I ask why she called?”
“Sarek will be the keynote speaker at a conference of some note in forty-two days. My mother wished to make me aware of it.”
Jim nodded. There was more to the story than what Spock was telling, he was almost certain. Amanda and Spock communicated mostly via messages with scheduled video calls twice a standard month. For her to call outside of those times meant that there was something significant she wanted to tell Spock. It wasn’t any of his business though, so he let the subject drop and gestured to the chessboard between them.
. . .
Jim had almost forgotten the instance forty-two days later when he was looking over the duty roster and saw that Spock had requested personal leave for the next day. He granted it, of course, signing off on the document and sending it back, but he decided to find Spock after Alpha was over and ask if anything was wrong. It was rare for Spock to take holidays, despite how often Bones insisted that he take a break, and he never did so without giving a reason.
The last time Spock had asked for leave unannounced, they had been forced to fight to the death. Somehow, though, he knew that whatever this was, it wasn’t as serious. He and Spock had grown closer since then, and he knew Spock trusted him enough now to let him know if something drastic was wrong.
After tapping out a quick reminder to himself to talk to Spock after the shift, he turned his attention back to the rest of the duty roster, signing off on various transfers and leave requests. He was going to need to ask Sulu to come up to the bridge on Thursday, assuming the botany lab didn’t need him too desperately. The rest of the shift passed uneventfully, and not long after it was over, Jim found himself ringing for entrance to Spock’s rooms.
The doors slid open after a few seconds, and he stepped inside. As usual, Spock’s quarters were warm, the lights dimmed slightly. Spock was sitting at his desk, the light from his computer monitor throwing his angular features into sharp relief. “Captain, is there something you need?” he asked, beginning to stand.
Jim waved his hand, and Spock sat back down. “Nothing serious, Spock. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I saw you requested leave tomorrow.”
Spock’s lips tightened a fraction, the kind of microexpression most people missed when they insisted Spock was emotionless. Jim, however, had learned by now how to notice and interpret such expressions and knew that whatever had caused Spock to ask for the day off had him frustrated.
“It is nothing that will interfere with my duties to the Enterprise ,” Spock promised, his voice falling into that perfectly controlled tone he always used whenever he was feeling irritated by something and thought he shouldn’t be.
“I know,” Jim replied easily, taking a seat in the chair across from Spock so that they were level. “You’d tell me if it was. But as your friend, not your captain, I want to know what’s wrong so that I can try and help. You don’t have to tell me anything, though.”
Spock blinked, surprise flashing across his face for an instant. It hurt to see that surprise. Not because Jim thought Spock didn’t trust him, but because it reminded him that Spock had been made to believe he wasn’t worthy of the time and concern of the people around him. It made Jim ache inside. He was hardly a shining model of a positive sense of self-worth, but the fact that anyone could look at Spock and not see someone breathtaking was inconceivable to him.
“Sarek is presenting at the Federation Conference of Interplanetary Civic Planning today,” Spock said eventually. Jim nodded. “I requested personal leave tomorrow due to the influx of messages and video calls I expect to receive from Vulcan.”
Now it was Jim’s turn to blink. “What does Sarek’s presentation have to do with you?”
“Nothing. I believe he is speaking primarily about his experience as a Federation Ambassador and the wisdom he has gained regarding the importance of civic planning on a planet-wide scale that looks decades into the future.” Spock took a breath, his eyes shifting to a point somewhere to Jim’s left. “However, the fact that he was offered the keynote position is a considerable honor, and it will remind those on Vulcan of my father’s status.”
“I still don’t understand why that affects you,” Jim said, keeping his voice neutral. Many things that had to do with Sarek made Spock uncomfortable and defensive, and he wanted to keep that to a minimum while understanding the situation.
Spock stayed silent for several seconds, the fingers on his right hand twitching as if they wanted to drum against the desk. Eventually, he looked back to Jim, holding his gaze as he said, “My father is influential on Vulcan, and his house is honored. This...conference will remind people of that, and of the advantages to be gained should they manage to join their household with his.”
Jim blinked. And blinked again. “Wait. Are you saying…? Did you take the day off tomorrow because you expect marriage proposals ?”
Something in Spock seemed to deflate at those words, and he nodded slowly, leaning into his chair. Suddenly he looked incredibly weary, and Jim wanted to wrap him in a blanket, get him some tea, and make sure no one ever bothered him again. “Technically, the messages I receive tomorrow will be declarations of intention, unless they break the tradition of asking my father first.”
“So you’re going to get a bunch of messages along the line of ‘Hey, I’m going to ask your dad for permission to marry you, live long and prosper’?”
Spock’s only response was a stiff nod, his eyes shifting to the desk in front of him.
“That’s…” There were lots of things Jim wanted to say. That it was rude, insensitive, greedy, cold, but he bit them back. This was part of Vulcan culture, at least in the circles Spock’s family was from, and his personal opinions didn’t give him the right to disrespect it. Instead, he asked, “Are you...interested in any of the proposals you expect to get?”
Damn. Saying that out loud hurt more than he had anticipated it would. It was no secret—to anyone that wasn’t Spock, that was—that he was head over heels for the Vulcan. Bones teased him about it so often it was a miracle his ears weren’t permanently crimson. Hell, he was pretty sure there was a betting pool going on when he would finally cave and ask the question. If Spock had ever noticed, though, he hadn’t said anything, and so Jim had contented himself to be good friends with him and nothing more. But to see Spock married…
Jim was so caught up in his thoughts he almost didn’t notice the small shake of Spock’s head. “No. I have never maintained close relationships with my peers on Vulcan, and I have no desire to tie myself to any of them. My father’s house is stable enough on its own—there is no need for me to marry so soon.” The weariness in his voice had grown, and Jim had to resist the urge to reach out and grasp his arm.
“Do you really need to respond to them all personally? You don’t seem eager to.”
Spock raised a wry eyebrow, eyes returning to Jim’s. “It would be a considerable breach of social conduct not to. Following T’Pring’s rejection of our betrothal, I have become somewhat of a pariah. While my marital status has no effect on my house, there is a certain personal...degradement connected to it. To ignore these messages would worsen that image.”
Anger churned in Jim’s stomach and tried to crawl its way up his throat. He swallowed it with difficulty. “I’m sorry if this is disrespectful, but that’s just ridiculous. Is there no one on that planet who sees you for the person you are?” His voice rose in volume and he forced it back under control and continued, saying, “You’re the First Officer on Starfleet’s flagship, and one of the most renowned astrophysicists in recent years, not to mention the work you’ve done in xenobiology, linguistics, and Federation policy analysis.”
“In the eyes of my peers, my half-blooded nature overshadows whatever personal achievements I might claim,” Spock stated, his voice quiet but matter-of-fact, as if he had been remarking on the weather rather than the years of abuse and ridicule he had endured and still faced from people who claimed to value ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’. “In addition, the biological consequences of my nature are not fully understood. It may be difficult or impossible for me to sire children, which is traditionally a significant consideration in Vulcan marriages.”
“I’d marry you.”
Spock raised an eyebrow, confused, although a small smile pulled at his lips.
Well, that wasn’t what he had meant to say. Jim fought to contain his blush and shrugged, aiming for nonchalant as he backtracked. “You bring plenty to the table, I mean. If kids were an issue, I’m sure there are adoption channels you could go through, and I feel like you’d be good with kids. And you’re a certified genius in at least a dozen subjects, you’ve got a storied career in Starfleet, you’re good company…” He trailed off, shrugging again.
There was silence for a few moments, and Jim was silently composing a list of reasons why he was an idiot when he noticed that the tips of Spock’s ears had started to change color in the dim light. Was Spock blushing?
“I appreciate your assessment of my...redeeming qualities,” Spock said eventually, some undefinable emotion slipping into his voice. “Regardless of my peers’ opinions, I do not seek a union with any of them—I am content in my position as your First Officer. While I do not look forward to tomorrow’s task, it is no great trial.”
Jim gave a quiet hum, not quite trusting himself to speak without saying something too close to his heart. A large part of him wanted to grab Spock by the shoulders and shake him until he could make him understand just how valued he was. Another part wanted to march to Vulcan and give those suitors a loud, angry piece of his mind.
Instead, he leaned forward, holding Spock’s gaze firmly. “I hope you know how much I value your presence here. You’re an incredible person, and you are worth so much more than your peers think. If you ever do decide to marry, I hope it’s to someone who can see that, see you. You deserve that.”
Something in Spock’s face softened, and he bowed his head slightly.
Jim leaned back and put on a bright smile. “Would you like any company tomorrow while you trudge through those messages? I could ask Scotty to cover the bridge.”
Spock’s lips twitched in that almost-smile Jim loved so much. “The Enterprise needs her captain, Jim. However, if you wish to ‘keep me company’ after Alpha shift, I would welcome your presence.”
“You’ll have it.” Jim’s smile widened, and he let himself relax the tension that had been sitting in his muscles since this conversation had started. “Do you have any dinner plans?”
Spock said that he didn’t, and their conversation turned to other things. As they talked, Jim basked in the feeling of rightness that settled in his mind and heart. Spock was here, and he was here because he wanted to be. And maybe, just maybe, Jim would have the chance to show him just how valued, how loved he really was.