After starting the Enterprise’s second five-year mission, Jim’s relationship with Spock felt different. There were, of course, still times when they didn’t see eye to eye and Spock still wouldn’t shut up about regulations, but it seemed like they understood one another better, like they could anticipate what the other was going to say and build their argument accordingly - respectfully. It made them a better command team, Jim thought. It made them stronger when they were able to act with synchronicity and show the crew that they were a team – not at each other's throats constantly. Shortly after leaving Earth, Spock asked Jim if he would like to start playing chess again – a semi-regular activity in which they had engaged in the past. Since then, they’ve been playing chess together, every five days, in Rec Room 7. Jim couldn’t give an exact timeline, but it’s been going on for at least a year.
That’s why he’s surprised when Spock asks him if he would like to meet in his quarters for their regular game, instead. They’re on the bridge, close to the end of their shift, and Spock is standing by Jim – who is looking over an ensign’s shoulder at data from engineering. “Captain,” Spock says, catching Jim’s attention. Jim straightens and leaves the ensign flipping through superfluous reports.
“Would you be amenable to relocating the location of our chess match tonight?”
Jim shrugs, and Spock follows him as he meanders back towards his chair. “Sure, why not. Where do you want to meet up?” He’s not sure why Spock wants to meet somewhere else, but as long as he doesn’t have to wear a spacesuit or a bio-suit, he’s okay with just about anywhere.
“My quarters, if that would be satisfactory?”
“Sure, whatever.” Jim drags his fingers across the arm of his chair and wonders about Spock’s request. But he won’t ask because he’s pretty sure Spock would just give him some non-answer, anyways. “Still at 1800?”
“Yes, Captain,” Spock says, turning back to his station with finality.
Later that day, Jim knocks on Spock’s cabin door and it slides open almost immediately. He feels a little awkward when he realizes he’s never been in Spock’s quarters before and suddenly feels like he should have brought a housewarming gift or something. He shakes himself free of the feeling and makes eye contact with Spock, who is standing by his replicator, hand on a mug of tea. He’s wearing a grey, knit sweater over his black Starfleet undershirt and has taken off his boots. Jim looks down at his still shod feet and pushes his hands into his pants pockets.
“The door will not close if you remain within it, Captain.”
Jim laughs and steps inside of the room, listens to the doors whoosh shut behind him. “I told you, it’s Jim when we’re off shift.”
“You have,” Spock says. But he doesn’t correct himself. Instead, he walks over to the table in his living area and sets down the tea. “Would you like anything to drink?” he offers.
“Don’t suppose you have anything a little stronger?” Jim says, looking at the tea with a raised brow.
“We cannot all follow Dr. McCoy’s example,” Spock says, but Jim is pretty sure he’s joking. When Jim doesn’t ask for anything else to drink, Sock takes his seat and gestures for Jim to do the same. “I believe it is my turn to play black,” Spock says, pulling out the velveteen bags in which he stores his chess pieces.
“Damn right,” Jim says, reaching for the appropriate bag so that he can start setting up his pieces.
“I advise you not to rely on having the opportunity to begin the match as a guarantee of success,” Spock says, and now Jim knows he’s joking.
They set up their pieces and play in relative silence for the first ten minutes or so. Other than Spock’s occasional sips from his mug, and the shuffle of Jim’s feet on the carpet, very little sound passes between them. As he is moving his bishop, Spock clears his throat. “I assume you are curious as to the reason for my request?”
Jim, who had been studying the board with some confusion (Spock was not following his usual patterns today), looks up briefly. “Yeah,” he says, “I did wonder, a bit. But I figured you would tell me, eventually.” He frowns – Spock’s left himself open. Jim moves his queen and picks up the bishop that Spock just set down. “Everything okay?” he asks. The last time that Spock played this poorly was when he and Uhura had broken up for the second time (although it took about a month for Jim to figure that out).
“There is nothing of concern to report,” Spock says, and Jim can’t help but smile.
“So then, are you gonna tell me?” Spock isn’t looking at the board, doesn’t even seem to have noticed that Jim took his bishop. This isn’t like him – he’s almost never distracted during a game.
“I have some personal information that I wish to share with you.”
This is news. Although Jim considers Spock to be one of his closest friends on the ship, he knows very little about the man. Spock is not the type to share something unless the news is critical to their working relationship or the ship’s functionality. Jim leans back in his chair and puts his hands flat on the table. “I’m all ears.”
Spock raises an eyebrow. It’s a mark of how seriously he’s taking the situation that he doesn’t tease Jim about the idiom like he usually would. “I am unsure of how this information will impact our relationship,” Spock says, and Jim is shocked to realize he sounds nervous. “However, I felt it was pertinent to inform you and allow you to make the decision as to how you would like to act with this knowledge.”
Jim’s heartrate picks up somewhat and he wonders if Spock is going to ask for a transfer to another ship or something. “You’re kind of scaring me, Spock. What’s going on?”
“I apologize,” Spock says. He reaches out to touch the edge of the lowest section of the board, his fingers feather-light against the smooth surface. “I find it…difficult to ascertain how best to communicate with you at this juncture.” He’s refusing to look at Jim, his eyes targeting the surface of the board. His body is stiff with the words he won’t say, and Jim has to keep himself from urging Spock to spit it out – he knows it won’t be productive. They know each other well enough at this point that Jim knows he will be best served by being patient. So, he watches Spock, who is watching the stalled chess game, and sits in silence for a moment.
Finally, Spock looks up from the chessboard, his eyes deep and dark. There’s no emotion that Jim can read there, nothing familiar, but the quirk of Spock’s lip tells him that Spock is concerned. “It’s okay,” Jim says. “Whatever you have to tell me, it’s okay.” He shouldn’t say that, he knows, because it might not be okay. But he needs Spock to know that he won’t be judged, that’s he’s safe here to say whatever he has to say.
“I have…I believe I have developed a yearning to have a relationship with you.”
Jim opens his mouth and closes it. His heart stutters. His hand clenches into a fist and then flattens against the table’s surface once more. “A relationship?”
“Yes,” Spock says, simply. His voice sounds quieter, weaker than Jim is used to. Like he is afraid. But he continues to hold his body in a stiff line and is watching Jim closely.
“Like a…romantic relationship?”
“Yes,” Spock tells him. Finally, he looks to the left for a second, his eyes flitting away and over to the door which leads to their shared bathroom. “An exclusive one.”
“Like the relationship that you and Uhura had?”
“I confess,” Spock says, looking back at Jim, his mouth in a thin line, “I am hopeful that, if you and I enter into such a relationship, it will be more successful than the one in which Nyota and I engaged.”
“Fair,” Jim says. His mouth is dry, and he tries to swallow but can’t manage it. “I need something to drink,” he finally says. If Spock is perturbed by Jim’s reaction, he doesn’t show it. He merely nods, rises, and strides over to the replicator to make two new cups of tea. They sit in what feels (to Jim) like tense silence as they wait for the drinks. Jim doesn’t know what to think. He’s considered it, before, but never really thought a romantic relationship with Spock would work. Truthfully, he assumed that Spock would never be interested in putting up with him, but he also imagines that Spock’s penchant for literalism and rule-following could put a damper on his excitable life. All told, he can’t deny the allure of it, either.
Spock knows him better than almost anyone else alive – he’s beaten out only by Bones, and only by a small margin. And if Spock knows him that well and still wants to be with him, well…that’s gotta mean something. Besides that, Spock is the smartest person Jim’s ever met, and their conversations always leave him feeling simultaneously stimulated and hungry for more. Ultimately, though, Jim knows that he trusts Spock – trusts him with anything and everything, trusts him without question and beyond doubt and that’s something that is rare. His heart beats a little faster in his chest as he accepts the tea from Spock and wraps his fingers around the warm ceramic.
“What made you decide to tell me?” Jim asks, looking down at the darkened liquid in his mug.
Spock looks at him for a while before answering, tips his head to the side and thinks for a moment. “I felt that, if I did not, it would begin to negatively impact my performance and our friendship.”
“Translation: you talked to Uhura and she said that you needed to tell me.”
“You are not incorrect,” Spock says, though he looks put out that Jim knows him well enough to suss that out.
“What if it doesn’t work out? Last time we fought, you choked me.” Jim grimaces at that – he tries to avoid bringing up the bridge incident, no matter how long ago it was.
“That is a relevant question, Captain.”
“Jim. If you’re going to declare your intentions to date me, you have to call me Jim.”
“Jim. Your question is relevant. We could not allow our relationship, or lack thereof to unduly impact the crew or the operations of the ship. However, we have not, as you indicated, engaged in an altercation since the destruction of Vulcan.”
Jim winces. “So, you really want to try this?”
Spock looks at Jim for a moment, looks down at the chessboard, and looks back at Jim. “Do you?” he finally asks.
Jim huffs a humourless laugh. “A question for a question.” He sips his tea and wonders. There’s nothing to keep them from engaging in a relationship – no Starfleet regs to stop them – but he still worries about the potential for a negative impact on the crew. As much as Spock and Uhura managed to keep their relationship (and its dissolution) from impacting the crew, Jim doesn’t know if he will be as capable of maintaining a cool exterior in the face of a dissolved partnership. Especially with someone who means so much to him.
“Jim,” Spock says, clearly concerned at Jim’s uncharacteristic silence. “You must be aware that, if we engage in this endeavour, I intend to fully commit myself to the relationship.”
“No pressure, huh?” Jim says, a slight nervous chuckle in his words. Spock just looks at him. “Listen, I…your offer is tempting. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it myself. But I need some…I need to think about this.”
“You have indicated that you have already considered this matter,” Spock says, sounding genuinely confused. It pulls at Jim’s heart, and he has to look away for a moment. He glances down at the floor, at Spock’s feet. His socks are black and stark against the carpet. “You require further time for contemplation?”
“Yes,” Jim says, swallowing thickly. “It’s never felt like it could be real. I need to…be sure. Before I jump into this with you.”
“I understand,” Spock says. Jim wonders when the silence between them got so loud. “Perhaps we could discuss this further tomorrow?”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Jim says. He drinks the rest of his tea, even though it’s still hot and burns a little as it goes down. “I should head out.”
“Affirmative,” Spock says. He rises in tandem with Jim and looks like he wants to say something else, like he wants to reach out and touch Jim, but he stays where he is and watches him leave.
Once he’s out of Spock’s quarters, Jim leans against the bulkhead and takes a deep breath. He doesn’t know what to do or what to think. He would usually go to Bones on something like this, but he knows what Bones would say. He would be derisive and dismissive, he would question Jim’s sanity and then offer him a drink. And as much as Jim loves his best friend, that’s not what he needs. So instead, he opts to hide away in his own quarters, letting his mind run amok with excitement and fear and longing and anxiety and anticipation. He doesn’t eat dinner, he doesn’t change out of his uniform. Instead, he paces the space for hours before falling onto his bed and lying awake for the rest of the night. When his alarm pings the next morning, Jim shuffles out of bed and changes into a fresh uniform before dragging himself to the bridge.
Spock is already there and, while he looks as well put together as always, there’s a tiredness around his eyes that tells Jim he likely slept just as well as Jim did. Uhura keeps looking back and forth between the two of them and while her behaviour could seem totally normal to an outsider – just a lieutenant looking to her commanding officers for guidance – Jim thinks there’s likely more to the surreptitious glances she keeps shooting him.
They are still 24 hours from arrival at their next destination, so bridge duty is uneventful at best. Spock is up and down between his station and the star plotting station. Jim’s not sure what he’s up to, but some part of him – a part he’s ashamed of – has been avoiding talking to Spock for most of their shift, unless he absolutely has to. He’s not sure why, it’s not like he’s going to suddenly blurt out that he does want to date Spock. At the thought, Jim blinks. His mind has made itself up without his involvement and he knows, with immediate clarity, that to give Spock any other answer than “yes” would be foolish and nonsensical.
“Mr. Spock,” he says, just two hours before their shift is up.
Spock looks up from his PADD and nods at Jim. “Captain?”
“Meet me in the debriefing room in 15. You have the conn.” Jim rises from his chair abruptly but doesn’t miss Uhura swivelling in her chair to look at him.
“Yes, sir,” Spock says, and nothing sounds different about his voice. No one would know that they were about to have a conversation about something completely unrelated to their duties. Spock’s face is calm as he watches Jim exit the bridge. Jim feels his heart hammering against his sternum and wonders if he is hiding it just as well as Spock.
He spends the next 14 minutes tapping his fingers on the table, shaking his legs with nervousness, watching the door impatiently. Why did he say 15 minutes? Finally, Spock comes through the door, still composed, still stiff-backed and calm. Jim wonders if his heart is pounding in his side, hammering a tattoo against his ribs just like Jim’s.
“Captain?” Spock says, stepping into the space.
“Yes,” Jim says. Spock just looks at him, his eyebrow raised like he is confused.
“Yes? I confess, I am uncertain as to you meaning.”
Jim huffs a laugh. Of course, Spock would draw this out. “Yes,” he says, his smile growing. “I’ll…be in a relationship with you. Let’s…let’s do it.”
Spock frowns minutely and Jim’s heart stops momentarily, his body flooding with adrenaline. His smile falters. Did Spock change his mind so quickly? Jim moves to stand, to say something, to salvage the situation, but then Spock speaks. “Captain, I am gratified. However, it is hardly appropriate to discuss personal matters when we are scheduled to be on shift.”
Jim gasps out a laugh and grips the back of one of the seats. He sags with relief and his fingertips tingle with it. “Of course,” he says, “of course, Mr. Spock. You’re right. Forgive me. Why don’t we meet in my quarters after shift, and we can discuss it then?”
“That would be appropriate,” Spock says, before he lifts his chin a modicum. “I presume I am permitted to return to the bridge now?”
Jim just nods, still trying not to laugh. “I’ll be there in a minute.” He waves Spock off and wonders how exactly he is going to manage a straight face for the next two hours.