For the first time in nearly four years – three years, eleven months, twenty-nine days, seven hours, eleven twelve thirteen seconds and he measures the time in careful units, perfectly unfeeling, because he does not think he could manage to measure it any other way. It has been only a moment and far too long, a handful of new friends and family and three... four uncelebrated holiday seasons now since he lost her – he does not know what day it is until it is nearly upon him.
He does not notice the change in colors – of the leaves, the buildings, the clothing of the people on the streets and even the sky is changing – or the signs in the windows, somehow misses the specials on the television and the radio, is blind to the numbers that blink on his phone calendar every morning – twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four – until finally it’s one and three days before the two days of the year he hates most of all and he realizes that Jim has been calling his name for some time now. “Sorry,” he says, and blinks himself into the world again. “What were you saying?”
“It’s okay. I know this time of year is hard for you.” The expression on Jim’s face is impossibly soft, so much so that he does not wait for the urge to strike him before acting; he leans across the counter to wrap a hand around Jim’s tattooed forearm, squeezing lightly, thumb tracing the dark lines like letters he cannot string into words.
For the first time in quite a while – in three years, eleven months, twenty-nine days, seven hours, six minutes and forty-seven forty-eight forty-nine seconds – he finds himself unable to speak; not speechless, and he wants to smile over the argument in semantics. Spock can find the words, can feel them stuck in his throat all the way down through his chest, but cannot speak them. These words – Grief. Regret. Anger. There is a language entirely its own for children who have lost their parents too soon, a language both thick and heavy – are leaden on his tongue. “Sometimes,” he says, because he cannot speak the words but he can speak around them, inference and evasion. “I think that it should have been me.”
Jim covers his hand with his own. There is a story of a car that is spoken around with a similar, all-to-great weight.
“Not that I wish it had been,” he clarifies, because if there is one thing he is sure of, it is his mind – he thinks, logically, but does not wish. “I do not wish I had died. Only that, by all logic, it should have been me. Had I been there, it would have been me in her place.” He thinks, of anything, he is most grateful that Jim does not say that he is glad it was not.
“You never,” and Spock does not dance but imagines that this is how it is done: two people, a common end, and a million steps to never quite reach it. Jim lowers his gaze to examine the counter that he must have memorized by now, the frequency with which he sits at it (and there is not enough counter space to ever be mysterious, even remotely), but does not lower his hand; he squeezes. “You don’t talk about her much.”
He doesn’t, too few words to fill a too-large void, and it is not that he does not think of her (he does, every day, all fourteen hundred and fifty seven of them) so much as he cannot speak when he does. “She was struck by a car,” he finally says, because Jim has heard the when and the what but never the how; Spock is not sure if he has ever spoken of the circumstances of his mother’s death, only the certainty of it. “While walking to the bakery. It hadn’t snowed that day. I suppose that the driver merely did not see her – it was early.” It had been sometime in the hour of three in the morning when he had received the call, later in her time zone but still early in the day, especially for a Connecticut winter. “If I had been there it would have been me on the streets at that hour, not her.”
“I-” Am sorry. Understand. Know what you’ve been through. “Can’t imagine.” Spock hopes that he never ceases to be surprised by this man. “Were you-” Jim does not evade the issue the way that Spock does; Spock talks around his emotions and Jim talks over them, a layer of words to cover meaning. “Were you supposed to be there? Instead of her?”
For a moment, he cannot find the words to respond; no one has ever asked the question to which he has always assumed the answer. “No,” he says finally, like a revelation. “I had told her that I did not intend to spend the holidays on the East Coast.”
Jim’s voice is soft, impossibly so. “Spock,” and Spock has made a career of studying language and its construction, a religion of words, but is sure that the sentence could end after his name and contain as much as any conversation. He leans into the sound, into the comfort contained in a syllable, like Bill would into warmth. “You can’t blame yourself for something that was never in your control.”
He blinks; whatever is in his eye, tears or the truth or something else entirely, itches beneath his skin. “It was less than a mile.” He focuses on the mundane facts, perfectly unchanging, because he does not think he could manage to focus on anything else. It was less than a mile from the house, less than a month since he had seen her last, less than a minute but the driver did not stop and – “I miss her.”
“I know,” Jim says, and the hand turns to weave their fingers together; Spock follows the motion, allowing his body to sag against Jim’s, face coming to rest against his collarbone. “Tell me about her?”
Later, when the grief has passed and all that is left is a comfortable silence left raw around the edges, Jim nudges his toes into the back of Spock’s knee; when that gesture does not garner an immediate response he tries again, hooking his foot around Spock’s leg to tug him – and, by location, the stool, which makes an unfortunate squeal as it drags across the time – closer. “You know the rules.” Spock cannot say that he does – there are many rules, most of them arbitrary, and Jim breaks nearly all of them. “Nobody’s alone on the holidays.”
It is a perfect segue into the topic that he has been speaking around for a month now, a mention that had been shoved to the back of his mind as quickly as it had been heard. “You,” he begins, like he is not sure what words should follow.
“And you,” Jim interrupts with one of his smiles, the shy ones that seem only for Spock. “And Bones and Uhura and Scotty and Sulu, even Chekov. At the shop – I don’t think we could all fit anywhere else.” It is probably true; for all that they are a group of seven they take up the space of twice that number, all, in their own way, large presences. Nobody spends the holidays alone.”
“My father,” he continues slowly, like he does not know the words; impossible, surely, but hesitancy lays thick and cottony in his mouth. “Has requested my presence for the holiday.” It’s a half truth, carefully chosen words that convey the meaning he wishes and not the one they intend, and he did not used to speak so carelessly; James Kirk makes him messy, imprecise. He revels in the freedom.
Jim looks confused, eyebrows drawing together as his brain draws conclusions and Jim reads people the way Spock reads words but they are fluent in each other. “I thought your dad didn’t celebrate-” This day. Anything. “Holidays,” he finishes, a multitude of meaning packed into a single word. Spock softens.
“He does not,” and he stares pointedly, raising one eyebrow as if to gesture. “Generally.”
Realization – and of course he understands, of course, because Jim is brilliant and bigheaded and blatant in his affections – paints itself in a smug, self-satisfied smile across his face. “Oh,” he says, words turning up at the edges with a grin. “He’s going to hate me.”
“Hmm,” he agrees without words, feeling an answering smile bend the corners of the sound, messy and imprecise. “I would be concerned if he did not.”
He does not.
Spock is concerned.