Title: Knitting Lessons
Pairing/Rating: PG-13, Kirk/Spock (pre-slash)
Summary: Spock's mother knit him a sweater, which develops a hole. Kirk knits it shut-- their friendship develops from there.
Written for the ksadvent2009 community, because awarrington asked and I couldn't say no. Many thanks to toastedtea for her editing skills and peptalk, as well as hitlikehammers for her generous comments and all the peptalk from the folks at my journal when I despaired of ever writing Spock.
“There’s a hole in your sweater.”
These were the first words Kirk had spoken in three point two minutes. At first, Spock thought the comment was an attempt at distraction, since Spock was due to capture the man’s bishop in two or four moves, depending on which of two gambits he chose, but a glimpse over the board showed that James Tiberius Kirk was, in fact, looking at the right arm of Spock’s sweater and not at his endangered bishop.
Silence prevailed for long moments as Spock contemplated the hole, two point four centimeters wide. He flushed with embarrassment for being so careless as to have let the garment fall into such disrepair—but Kirk spoke again, even as he was moving away from the table.
“I can fix that,” he said, his voice floating back even as he left Spock behind.
The young captain’s back was turned to his First Officer. He stood on bare tiptoes, his navy blue sweater riding up slightly to expose a pale swath of skin over old dungarees—those were what Spock’s mother called them, no matter that Dr. McCoy laughed and said “Damnit, man, they’re called bluejeans,”—as he reached up into the storage cabinets inset over the bed in his sleeping area, rummaging for something Spock could not see from the angle where he was seated.
Kirk muttered under his breath, clearly discarding whatever he saw, lumps of something cast aside as the sounds of soft thumps and sharp skitters emerged from behind the privacy screen that obscured the rest of Spock’s view.
“Here,” Kirk said, appearing with a ball of yarn in his hand and—three different sets of needles as well as what Spock’s mother called a crochet hook. The yarn was, indeed, a marled grayish-black, not at all unlike the coloration of the sweater he wore.
“C’mon, off with it, Spock,” Kirk directed. “You can make yourself tea and debate whether you’re going to take my bishop in two or four moves while I purl that together for you,” he said, smiling as he set down the objects and held out his hand, clearly expecting Spock to take off his garment and hand it over for mending.
When Spock hesitated, Kirk’s eyebrow rose—not in imitation of Spock, but something more akin to that of Dr. McCoy, though devoid of the especial scorn that made even Spock feel like a child sometimes, though nothing he would ever admit to the fierce CMO. The man was sarcastic enough. He needed no more ammunition.
Saying nothing, Kirk waved his hands over the sweater he wore, in much the same gesture their Chief Engineer used when he was displaying some new improvement he wanted the captain to praise.
“You created that garment yourself?” Spock asked, and Kirk nodded, adding, “That green one Bones wears at poker games, too.”
Spock looked again. It was what he believed was called a fisherman’s style, alternating cables and coils, intricate patterns far beyond what his own mother had ever been capable of—and the garment to which he referred often worn by Dr. McCoy was, if not identical, also a well-constructed example of intricate craftsmanship, though before now, Spock had never had any idea that the garments were ones Kirk had knit. It was not something he—or Dr. McCoy—had ever mentioned before.
Then again—Kirk did often not mention the many languages in which he was fluent, the forms of combat with which he was familiar, the mechanical specifications of the ship he had memorized, or many other pieces of knowledge within his possession—he merely used the knowledge when the situation required.
Spock stood and removed his sweater, handing it over.
Kirk snorted even as he turned the sleeve inside out, pulling on the glasses he used when he was reading. He then inspected the hole and took up the smallest of the three sets of needles from the sets he had brought to the table. Spock understood from Dr. McCoy that the man was allergic to the medicine used to correct the pathological deformity of the eye, such that Kirk wore the old-fashioned lenses for prolonged reading and up-close work instead—yet another incongrous thing about this captain of his, given Kirk’s reputation at the Academy as a vain, callow youth who would never let anyone get in a word edgewise.
He would never have expected a barefoot, casual Kirk knitting closed a hole in the sweater Spock’s mother made, glasses perched at the end of his nose, a small smile at the edge of his mouth as sometimes appeared when the captain was pleased with himself for being of use—nor would he have ever expect Kirk to be the one to find the hole in a sweater Spock wore carefully and not all that often, since there was little he had left of his mother.
He suddenly felt embarrassed again, and looked elsewhere than Kirk. Taking the man’s invitation, he made himself tea in the kitchenette that bordered the living and work area where the chess set was laid on the table. The food preparation area was adjacent to the sleeping area where, he saw now, Kirk had tossed what looked like multiple balls of yarn and dozens of needles all over his bed and the floor in his haste to find something that matched.
As he waited for the water to boil, he noted—though before he had seen, if not really observed in the year’s time he had served with the captain-- the scant decoration. There were few personal effects other than some old paper books and a few pictures, the detritus elsewhere in the quarters mostly that of PADDs, schematics and models waiting approval. There was one picture of Kirk and Dr. McCoy—another of the entire senior bridge crew taken after the successful conclusion of negotiations on Altair Six, when they were honored with a banquet. Lastly, there was one picture of two small, blond-haired boys and an elderly couple, the man blue-eyed and the woman likewise fair-haired and light-eyed—and that was the summary display of the captain’s personal life.
Spock had more personal objects in his very spare quarters. It was not a comfortable realization.
There were no visible reminders of Kirk’s mother—or father, for that matter, though the old blue-eyed man had much the same facial structure as Kirk, so it was safe to surmise—
“These are your paternal grandparents in this photograph?”
There was a clatter.
Spock turned around at the noise to see Jim picking one of the needles off of the floor, his face turned away from Spock’s scrutiny.
“Yeah. Grandpa Ti, though we called him Gramps. Even he hated Tiberius.”
“Your grandmother taught you to knit?” Spock asked, as he watched the water darken with the herbs steeping, color swirling in eddies into his cup. The handsome woman in the photograph had her hand on the youngest boy’s shoulder, and indeed wore an intricate buttoned-front sweater.
“Nah. Picked it up in juvenile hall, they ran out of educational modules for me after three weeks and I had to amuse myself with the handicrafts until they could get more in from the state college,” Kirk responded, sounding amused. When Spock turned to regard him again, his head was bowed over the sweater, squinting hard at the stitches, working yarn into the hole that was quickly disappearing under the swift-moving needles. As was sometimes his wont when concentrating on something, Kirk was biting his lip as he worked.
Despite his light tone, Kirk did not seem to be joking and Spock pondered the small boy in the picture who grinned with a wide-open expression he’d never seen on his captain. He was aware—generally—that Kirk had experienced what Admiral Pike euphemistically called “a disturbed childhood” and Doctor McCoy called “totally FUBAR,” but Kirk had never confided in Spock the details of his juvenile record other than vagaries—“Mom wasn’t around, I got into trouble.”
Spock felt disinclined to pressure the man, having never really sat down and “hashed out” (as Kirk would probably say) their untoward beginnings. If—if, and Spock was no longer certain-- Kirk had been wrong to invoke Spock’s mother to provoke a reaction from Spock—Spock’s hands were not clean. Or as Pike had said—only once—after several drinks, when Spock had gone to the man to confer as to whether Kirk would likely accept his application to be Kirk’s Science Officer— “You threw his dead dad in his face in front of the entire Academy, Spock. You’re lucky he didn’t rip your throat out right there.”
The timer indicated that Spock’s tea was ready even as he debated the wisdom of asking anything further—Kirk did not volunteer personal matters, nor did he press others to reveal their own, though Spock had observed the man listening at patient length to grief-stricken crew after hard missions when he stopped to “check in,” as Kirk called it in his strange, terse vernacular.
He resumed his seat, observing the dexterity with which his hands moved, Kirk’s close-bitten nails no impingement to the speed with which he stitched shut the hole. The needles clicked far more rapidly than Spock’s mother’s had.
However, despite the technical proficiency evident in the garment Kirk wore, Spock could observe that the new stitches Kirk placed were the same size and shape—even the uneven ones-- as those his own mother had made. An unexpected warm tightness grew in his abdomen at the care Kirk displayed in making sure that things were aligned properly.
In recompense for the personal question, and minded of something Nyota once told him— “We humans, Spock, we like to exchange things, it’s not just about gathering information”--Spock offered—“I must admit, this is not a style of garment I would purchase myself, but I retain sentimental fondness for it incommensurate with its style or coloration, simply because of its origin and associations.”
“Your mom made it for you,” Kirk said, smiling down at the sweater, even as he made some jerking motion on the ball of yarn to bring more forward to draw through his fingers. “It’s a Weasley sweater.”
Spock frowned as he set down his teacup, his hand lingering around the warm china. “I do not know the term. ”
The Captain smiled, shaking his head. “Right. It’s a reference from a series of Earth children’s books from a few hundred years ago—pretty obscure, but I read a lot when I was a kid. Pretty minor point, really, except, well—anyway. The hero’s an orphan, and he makes this friend at boarding school, one of his two best friends, who’s from a poor family, Weasley’s their surname—and the mother makes these godawful sweaters. They’re always ugly as hell—but they fit, and they’re warm—and—the Mom makes him one at Christmas each year, she kind of adopts him. The hero, he always wears his, because, well—it means someone’s thinking of him and he likes the feeling of that. I’ll send you the link to the books. There’s seven of them, pretty voluminous, you don’t have to read them.”
Spock regarded the sight of his Captain taking such care with something of Spock’s—noted the way Kirk did not condescend or scoff when Spock missed some cultural or vernacular reference simply because he had not grown up on Earth—simply dealt with Spock on Spock’s terms—the teacup cracked under his hand, the force causing the shards to scatter the chess pieces haphazard.
When he was done mopping the liquid and had recycled the broken pieces of china, he accepted the return of his sweater and inspected the place where the hole had once been.
“My mother was not an excellent knitter—Jim” he said, making the effort, because it still felt unnatural to avail himself of first names when rank should suffice— “but this is an excellent patch. Thank you.”
Kirk, wide-eyed that Spock had broken the cup and clearly concerned that he had done something to upset Spock after all, merely swallowed and nodded, face shuttered and smile tight and closed. It was not a pleasant expression.
Spock was glad, for once, that an Admiralty communication interrupted them then. Though he was displeased to have to discontinue the evening, the next logical step would have been to continue the game, which would have required taking Kirk’s bishop and thereafter winning the game. He would not have relished the victory—and did not know why, the thought of which caused him the shock that made him clutch the teacup so sharply it broke.
He had little idea where to begin—it was the reason why he and Nyota had—fizzled—was the word she had used—when it came to discerning and offering emotion in return, but he anticipated that Dr. McCoy was the best place to start. He had felt unsettled in the days since his interaction over the sweater.
The response was not what he expected.
“Lord no, Jim’s whole family’s dead, didn’t you know?”
The doctor looked horrified even as he waved at Spock to shut the door of his office. “Don’t want anyone walking in here, Christ, Jim’d kill me, gossiping about him like an old lady. Jesus, no one ever told you? And of course you never looked in his file, that’d be nosy… you’re officious but you’re not a gossip…”
Spock managed not to hesitate in shutting the door as the man continued his monologue, but stood stiffly just inside, unable to take the seat the doctor motioned to with the bottle he pulled out of his desk drawer. “Horror show, the whole goddamned thing. I mean, you know about his daddy, but then, well, his mother remarried…”
McCoy poured himself what even their Chief Engineer would call a “generous draught,” then stopped and glared up at Spock.
“Why are you asking?”
Spock paused—debated—and sat. Put his elbows on his knees—shifted forward—then back—then leant forward again. His mother would have said he had “ants in his pants.” He found the phrase suddenly apt.
“The Captain fixed a hole in a sweater my mother knit for me. During my time in his quarters, I noted he had only one picture of his family, and that of only his grandparents. And … he … lent me some books he read as a child in explanation of a phrase he had referenced.”
McCoy’s eyes narrowed—he did not say what he thought, for once-- before he exhaled, the sound not unlike an annoyed horse.
He took a sip of his liquor, and Spock ignored—as Kirk did—the fact that the man was on duty, because McCoy knew his limits. As cantankerous as the man was, Spock somehow knew he would make the amber liquid in the glass last the whole tale, whatever the content. It did not mean Spock looked forward to whatever McCoy had to say.
He declined the doctor’s offer of tea. There were only so many cups aboard, and while it was one thing to break a cup before Kirk, he had no wish to repeat any such display in front of the doctor-- even if he could not explain why it was different, to lose control of himself before Kirk, it nonetheless—was.
A two weeks and four days after learning the meaning of the term Weasley sweater, Spock returned to his quarters at the end of a laboratory shift to find a dark bundle on the table he used as a desk in his quarters.
There were two sweaters, one, a near-exact replica of that made by his mother, minus the pilling and stretching of age, the other one new. That sweater was fine—lightweight and woolen and so soft it had to be merino or cashmere or some other expensive wool—heathered purples and browns, a complementary mix, the fit long and narrow, cut in a tunic with many small cables decorating the whole.
The contrast was marked, though he was sure Kirk had not intended it so.
Both fit perfectly—and both were all unexpected, much as Spock’s life here on Enterprise—not in the least because of the identity of its captain.
He put them down before he could drop them, his hands suddenly cold with surprise. He had cancelled their chess games of late, citing a detailed experiment that he did, in fact, need to personally supervise—it had happened before. Apparently, Kirk had put the time to real purpose.
He gave thanks to the Captain the next day during breakfast—“Jim,” he had said, seriously, “I do not know how to thank you,” immediately, and Kirk had smiled at him over his coffee mug, said “Hey, got to keep you from freezing your butt off in my quarters, I know it’s pretty cold for you on the rest of the ship,” then proceeded to drink from his beverage. Kirk demurred when Spock said he owned nothing so fine as his new sweater—his “It’s nothing Spock, really,” seemed all too sincere.
Spock noted that Kirk’s smile wasn’t strained—not precisely—when Sulu and Chekov said they wouldn’t do anything Kirk wouldn’t do while they were on Christmas shore leave on Earth. He likewise noted the way Kirk’s shoulders most definitely hunched for a few seconds before he clapped McCoy on the shoulder and said “Give Jo-Jo a big kiss for me,” before he shoved his friend at the transporter platform.
Owing to time differences, Chief Engineer Scott and much of his crew had already departed for Scotland during the first wave of crew to transport, and Kirk was in the process of seeing off all but the skeleton crew of non-Terrans as Spock himself waited to be sent to the Academy transporter station. Kirk planned on remaining behind, supervising the overhaul crews who would work on the ship during the crew’s two-week shore leave on Earth.
He accepted a chaste cheek-kiss each from Nyota and Gaila and Chapel, bidding them each Merry Christmas and the best of the holidays as he sent the three women off to enjoy themselves at Chapel’s family’s home. Only then did he turn to where Spock stood to the side.
“Well, Commander, train’s leaving,” he said with a smile, the non sequitur nonetheless apt as he motioned for Spock to take his place on the transporter pad. “Have a good break. Don’t discover too many new things all at once, you’ll fry that big brain of yours and we need it here on the ship. Actually try and relax a bit.”
“And you,” Spock offered, feeling suddenly awkward and tongue-tied. “You will be attending the gathering at Admiral Pike and Captain One’s house on Christmas Eve?”
Kirk’s mouth twitched just slightly. “Nah. I’m kind of a Grinch. I’m going to stay aboard, catch up on some paperwork, that kind of thing.” Then, uncharacteristically, because he was usually scrupulous with telepath manners-- Kirk took Spock by the elbow and steered him to the platform, letting go and walking quickly away before returning to the controls to tap in the commands that would return Spock to Earth.
“See you in two weeks, Spock,” Kirk said, the bright smile on his face and jaunty wave of his hand at utter odds with the stray thought he’d picked up from Kirk’s mind during their very brief contact.
God. I fucking hate shore leave even more than I hate fucking Christmas
. At least I’ve got budgets to do.
He did not offer to explain the meaning of the term Grinch.
Several days’ leave brought not rest but mounting dissatisfaction, the usual solace of uninterrupted and detailed research turned somehow tedious and yet also distracting. Spock’s mind travelled in circles.
He had ceased his romantic relations—thankfully retaining their friendship and intellectual discourse-- with Nyota for multiple reasons, not the least of which was the ache he still felt at the loss of his mother. It was at odds with the way after a few months, Nyota seemed to think one got over losing the person who cherished you most, even as she understood that he had feelings in ways that most humans believed he did not.
By the same token, however, she expected him to express himself in ways that did not feel appropriate, much less natural. And she could not comprehend quite how much effort it took for him to just interact with so many emotional humans—the discernment required to assess whether their moods were general or directed at him, and then whether further involvement on his part was required was exhausting, sometimes. It was a pleasure, by contrast, to interact with someone like Kirk, who, if his cheery demeanor was an illogical choice in contrast to Vulcan neutrality-- at least it was constant and the man did not express an unending stream of personal confessions designed to—manipulate, no matter how good the intention—Spock into further revealing himself.
Indeed, Kirk seemed to have no expectations of Spock except for his job. He seemed childishly pleased when Spock made a joke or related an anecdote, as if he had done something Kirk would have never dared ask for—and yet had been given.
It was strange to have found that the most illogical human he knew was also the most stoic, in his own peculiar way—but now he found the idea disturbing. If even Vulcans were not meant to suppress their emotions all the time, what did it mean that an individual like Jim Kirk—empathetic by Spock’s observation and sensitive, by McCoy’s account, a highly intelligent child—had determined that never sharing his personal thoughts nor asking for help was the only viable option, and that a veneer of good cheer and charm was the best way to contend with the world?
“Only thing we can do is try and be there. I don’t know, Spock. Maybe someday he’ll decide he feels like talking,” McCoy had said, after completing his account of Kirk—Jim’s—indeed “totally FUBAR” adolescence and childhood, what little he knew. It wasn’t much, despite how much longer he’d known the captain.
As he looked around his loaned officers’ quarters, the few belongings he’d brought while he planned to research at the Academy libraries, Spock was minded of something else McCoy said—when he’d seen Spock’s new sweater, the one he’d been wearing when he transported to Earth their first day of shore leave.
“Hope you know he doesn’t just make those for anyone.”
Spock re-packed his sweaters and other belongings and locked up his rooms.
Jim looked up from one of an assortment of PADDs surrounding him on his couch when Spock entered his quarters, the doors gliding open at his quiet command. His glasses had, as they frequently did, slid to the end of his nose. It was an endearing expression, both childlike and adult all at once, a contradiction that seemed characteristic of Kirk.
“Spock?” His eyebrows rose in surprise.
Spock nodded, smoothing his hands over his purple-brown sweater—it truly was a very fine, very warm sweater. The woman at the transporter station had also told him quite shyly that it complemented his eyes.
“I am not interested in the large gathering planned for this evening at the Admiral’s house.”
Jim quirked an eyebrow. “Your dad’s going to be there. I saw the guest list on the email.”
Spock tipped his head in response. “He will be engaged in the ambassadorial rounds. Time spent in his company when he is at such purposes does not effect familial harmony. We have plans to meet in the days coming.”
Jim’s eyebrow tipped further. “Uh-hunh.” He paused, before he eyed Spock with a frank appraisal that left the man feeling as exposed as a child.
“I don’t do Christmas.” His tone was flat, almost dismissive.
Spock responded, having conducted further research.
“Neither do I. I inquired of the menu for the evening’s events—I do not care for roast beast, either, Jim, though as a vegetarian such antipathy is more natural and less sympathetic than that of the book’s character.”
There was a pause and then Jim snorted, everso lightly.
“Looked it up, hunh?”
Spock nodded. “The rhyming structure would be quite entertaining to children, I would imagine. It seems there are several movies, as well.”
Jim snorted again, a half-smile curving his mouth. “Yeah. Not watching those, okay? The movies are never as good as the book.” He saved something on the PADD he was holding, then took off his glasses, absently rubbing his forehead.
“So. What do you want to do?”
Spock began to set up the chessboard. “I was about to take your bishop when I clumsily interrupted our game the last time we played. I propose we start over.”
He set up the chessboard—with one difference.
Spock could not knit, and despite his intellectual gifts, he was not skilled at handicrafts—but throughout his interactions with his captain—with Jim, and when had that come, his inward transition from calling him Kirk or the captain to Jim, as the man had been wont to insist—over chess he had always assumed his superiority in the game. He had vaunted his Vulcan quickness and strength, and Jim had taken the white pieces on the side of the board Spock had always set up as his dessert, playing if not patiently then at least ingeniously-- winning some games and losing others in interesting ways, with gambits that might well have worked against other opponents than Spock. This time, however, Spock thought perhaps he was beginning to learn.
He set up the black pieces on Jim’s side of the board—his Captain was used to starting from one step behind. It was only fair of Spock to acknowledge that fact.
It was not a Weasley sweater, this opening gambit—but Spock had not played from the white position since he was ten and Jim smiled as he took in the board. It was not so broad a smile as that boy in the still photograph in the bedroom beyond the privacy screen—but there was a feeling of contentment radiating from Jim when Spock not at all accidentally brushed his fingers against Jim’s as he continued to set up the board.
Trading the black pieces for white, the antique ivory pieces rubbed unevenly shiny like pearls, Spock hoped it was a start at some attempt to acknowledge a truth. There has been a hole in his life where his mother once was. Slowly but surely, however, it was being knitted together by the man on the opposite side of the table, the one studying the black pieces before him with a faint look of surprise.
Spock’s pawn clicked like wooden needles when he made his first move.