Jim loved Earth. Really. The food, the women , the sky. Stars in familiar patterns. Smells that he knew: ocean water, gasoline, the way the cold air smells, not dissimilar to how it smells when he opens the big walk in freezer on-board to go find something but so much better, brighter, and safer.
Christmas is by far his favorite holiday. They haven’t all been great, but they all have the same effect on folks: they get nicer. Store owners more willing to negotiate prices, people more forgiving, smiling at you in the streets, giving panhandlers money, buying gifts for even the most distant relative. Even when they’ve been stuck onboard with no leave to speak of, his crew are still jolly. Wearing Santa hats in the labs, rigging the replicators to make that gross eggnog they all guzzle, picking up a shift for a colleague so they can comm their families. Christmas has a certain universal appeal. It’s a solvent for crap circumstances.
But home...it’s grand. They have one week here on this precious rock. One week, and Starfleet claimed four days of it. “You’re a Captain now,” they say, “You have responsibilities,” but he waited so long, so long and here’s his vacation: briefings. And meetings. And speeches. And whatever else they can think of to take up his time. He only speaks for a maximum of three hours out of all three days they’re there and he cannot stand still. Twice, he was twirling a stylus around his fingers and it flew across the room. Komack said if he did it one more time he was going to demote him.
Spock looked amused.
After that shibang he kept his head down but he was full of restless energy. He was smouldering with it by the time he was out of there and on impulse sent a quick message to McCoy: Would you kill me if I let Spock come for Christmas? He looked at Spock across the auditorium and felt that sort of holy sadness he always felt for him. Spock looks softer when he thinks nobody’s watching. Like maybe he’s tired of keeping his shields raised.
Around 7pm (Jim thinks that sounds much better than 1900) they close up and get out. Spock and Jim gravitate towards one another, even as they talk to other officers about things that don’t mean much at all.
How are the kids, BIll?
Oh real great, Jim. Merry Christmas!
Commander Spock. Hello.
Hello Captain Spinelli.
Any plans for your break?
Not at this time. I must bid you farewell, Captain.
...You’re just as I remembered you.
Jim rounds on Spock and starts talking right away: “Okay, so, I was wondering, you know, I grew up in Iowa in this big old house and now it’s just kinda sitting empty so I thought--do you have Christmas plans? Or Hanukkah? Or something...plans?”
“...I plan to research the mating habits--”
“Yeah but like in a lab here, or with your mom’s family, or like Uhura or what?”
“At present I have no set plans to be with family or friends.”
“Oh, good! Well, like I said, house...Iowa, um...there’s a Jacuzzi and Bones and I are gonna be there, do you wanna come too?”
“You can take Uhura!” She most vehemently dislikes Jim, not that he doesn’t adore her, really. Smartest girl he knows, got a mouth on her too. But…
Well...Christmas is the time to forgive...hopefully he’ll win her over. He is quite the charmer.
“I suppose, if I am not intruding. I do not celebrate the Terran holidays myself--”
“That’s fine. Bones and I don’t really either.”
“I am not sure what the Lieutenant’s plans are of yet, however, you may contact her if you so wish to do so.”
“Well, God, Spock, I didn’t think you’d say yes!”
They are in motion now, destined for the outside and the cold air Jim likes so much. Spock gathers himself together in the way he sets his hands inside his sleeves a touch more and pulls his arms to his sides.
“We’re leaving tomorrow from the San Fran port, the transport leaves at 0900 so maybe arrive at 0800 to be safe? How does civilian transport work anyway? Takes four hours. We get to Des Moines at like one, then a taxi to my house. Hour’s drive, I hope. Bring your warmest clothes.”
“For Chrissakes, it’s Jim.”
Spock looks away. “Jim.”
“Good.” He types a message to Uhura and waits for a reply. His dress shoes crunch in the light snow and he looks out at the choppy bay over Spock’s shoulder. He thinks for a moment that he doesn’t want to forget this. Spock with his ears turning green in the cold, cap on, hair severe. The Pacific ocean, noisily filling their silence.
“We will need separate rooms.”
“What? Well, yeah, I’m not expecting the four of us to camp out in the living room or anything--”
“No, Jim, the Lieutenant and myself will not share sleeping quarters.” The ‘ anymore’ was left unsaid.
“Oh. Yeah, of course. Sorry about that. I didn’t know.”
“It was a recent change.”
“Two weeks 5 days...4 hours, 23 minutes.”
“That bad, huh?”
“She seems happier now.”
“Well, you never really know, do you? ...This is actually my stop, but you’re welcome to come bar hopping if you’d like.” Jim lifts one teasing eyebrow and waves as he branches off from Spock down another path. Spock watches him go. He doesn’t turn back. Maybe, for him, he could’ve gone ‘bar hopping’.
Spock has always hated public transportation hubs. Private ones aren’t much better but this one, Jim’s choice, is full of noise and stray thoughts.
Humans, although good, kind people are also overwhelming. He watches in mild horror as two young children scream and curse in Italian over something that Spock presumes to be a toy. They are projecting anger and a childish hate that makes Spock irritable even as he passes by. Jim, for all his wonders, has not set a destination for their meeting, so he’s been calling Spock off and on with sporadic updates on where he and the doctor are amidst all this chaos. Out of the corner of his eye he spots a ponytail he knows and does an about face to track her down without running or shouting. Moving swiftly, he finds her and looks her in the eye as he comes to walk next to her. They say nothing for a few moments and then she says, “Have you heard from Jim?”
“Last reported location an unknown establishment called ‘Alice’s Pub’.”
“Oh. I know where that is.” Their interactions are so small now, he thinks. Walking with her used to make him so--dare he say--happy. The notable presence of not one but two of them, arriving together was a quiet reminder to others that she was his. Oddly, he also felt like hers. Not anymore. Not after that night.
Alice’s Pub was in the airport by gate 11.
“About goddamn time!” McCoy stands and picks up his bag, one hand on his hip.
“Oh, stop it Leonard.” Nyota says this and the cadence of her voice changes to something sweet and light. She never spoke to Spock like that. Not even when things were good. He looks at Jim. Jim meets his eye.
Spock feels like a stone in a river. The rock in the river is strong, stronger than the water. It’s also alone. A solid in the midst of so much fluidity. He is an outsider just like the anomalies he studies through his scanners.
Only three children ask to touch his ears in the process of finding their cabin, which is something of unremarkable. (Record: 16. Flying from New Delhi to San Francisco.)
“Don’t talk to me for the next four hours or I’ll kill you, I swear.” McCoy is in a foul mood, more so than usual. Spock suspects a combination of sleep deprivation, recovering from over consumption of alcohol, and/or lack of caffeine. He settles himself in the bed irritably and orders the lights down.
“Well, Princess, we’ll just be on our way then.” Jim sighs and drops his bags, Spock and Uhura follow suit.
The three of them leave McCoy in the cabin and venture out into the crowded main deck.
“He’s pleasant today,” Jim rubs his eyes and runs his hands over his face, “Don’t ever let him have more than five shots. He says he can take it, but he’s an ass the next day.”
“Bar hopping last night?” Nyota asks knowingly.
“Maybe,” Jim says with humor on his lips.
“Figures,” She gets in line for something to eat and Jim and Spock fall behind her. “When are you boys going to grow up? For God’s sakes you’re almost 30, Jim. And McCoy has to be at least three years older than you. Drinking’s a young man’s game. After that it’s alcoholism.”
Jim sighs, Spock can see something in his face. Irritation, foremost, but something else too, something sour and knowing. Nyota is missing a piece of information, Spock’s certain. What, he knows not.
“Are you done?” The lines around Jim’s mouth tighten as he tries to control his expression. Spock knows he’s slightly hungover as well, but not as much as the good doctor.
“For now.” A harsh silence falls over them and Spock wants, inexplicably, to fill it with something, anything. Like when his parents fought (so illogically ) when he was young. He has never felt more like a small child at the dinner table listening to nothing but breathing and cutlery.
“What is your mother’s home like, Jim?”
“Ah...three bedrooms, one and a half baths. Kitchen, fireplace. I think there’s a den.”
“You think ?” Nyota says, turning back.
“Well, I haven’t been home in a while.”
“You lived there once, did you not?” Spock queries as Jim pours himself coffee.
“Yeah…” his tone is wistful. “But it’s foggy to me.”
“Probably drunk the whole time,” Nyota mutters from the front of the line, then changes her voice completely as she begins her breakfast order. Spock is unsure why her mood is so foul this morning. He knows Jim is also lost.
“She doesn’t seem happier to me,” Jim says quietly then proceeds to order an omelet.
Spock still does not like public transport.
Jim is passing their flight in the library reading a novel about two people who fall in love while doing an experiment. He likes the romance. Or tries to. Once he would have. He looks across the room at Spock. He looks serene but drawn tight. Jim wants to build some sort of friendship with him that isn’t just...sidestepping. He wants the dumbest things. To get wasted with him, just to see what it’d be like. To tell him all the dirt inside him and get it outside him. To touch his ears. (He did say stupid, didn’t he?) For Spock to tell him something embarrassing about Uhura, just so he’d know it. To hear what his mom’s cooking was like, what his bedroom on Vulcan looked like. Jim wants to know Spock’s favorite smell. Spock looks sad a lot. Jim wants to know why.
He gets up and slots the book back where he found it. He’s fairly sure what will happen anyway.
“Currently, not much.” He shows Jim his padd and a game of solitaire. Jim smiles at that.
“I’ve been there, my friend. Would you like to play chess?”
“That is amenable.” Spock queues up the game on his padd and adjusts the brightness. Jim takes white.
“Sorry for the bad moods lately. Me and Uhura. Crazy humans.” He brushes it off and moves a pawn.
“Not uncommon, but still illogical. I am unaware of what troubles Nyota. You seem more quiet than upset, though. Are you troubled?”
“No, not more than usual. Haven’t been home in a long time. There are ghosts there that...well. How are you doing?”
“I am well.”
Jim doesn’t quite know what to say to that other than, “Oh.” The conversation stalls for a moment.
“Well, if that’s about it, we land in 20 and I want to take a piss.”
He stands up with a fond but awkward slapping of both knees and looks down at Spock. Loyal, fiercely stoic Spock. A man who's seen him drunk and crying and beaten and crying. He tries to think of something remarkable he's done for Spock and comes up empty.
“Well? Let's rally the troops. Move out, Commander.” Spock stands and grabs his padd. They walk briskly toward their cabin and Jim flips his communicator out just as Spock has seen him do thousands of times to call for Uhura.
The problem lies in waking McCoy, who groans and rolls over at least four times when Jim tries to wake him. Sighing, Jim winks at Spock before letting out a cry and jumping on top of him.
“GOOD MORNING, BONES!” McCoy swings at him.
“Infants, all of you. Swear to God, Jim, I’ll kill you. I will. It’ll look like an accident too.” Bitching aside, the four of them make it out of transport and through the airport by the grace of God. Jim stares like child. The rest of them do not fail to notice.
Des Moines looks remarkably unchanged from the last time Jim was here. He’s glad he is in civilian clothes for once in his life. They all are, save Spock. Jim sometimes thinks he has no civilian clothes. Spock sticks out like a sore thumb, and garners a lot of looks from curious passersby.
At that moment he remembers Riverside, Iowa most clearly. The people, while good as gold, are more often cretins of some sort. Alcoholics, busy bodies, gossips, criminals, xenophobes. He remembers why he left as clearly as the day he did.
Turning to his friends, he pulls out his Kirk smile.
“Bones, we’ll get you some coffee real quick. Anyone else want something? It’s a long drive in. Riverside is smack dab in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, so I’d grab civilized food now, if I were you.” Jim corrals them into a popular franchise restaurant and Bones and Uhura purchase coffee. Jim, a popular soft drink. He buys one for Spock too, even though he protests. The taste is not unpleasant.
The terminal is crowded but Jim maneuvers well, towing the rest of them behind him like ducklings. He’s looking for a cabbie with a sign. He spots him and throws his hand up, increasing his speed to get to him.
“Hello! I’m Captain Jim Kirk, and--”
“Jimmy Kirk? No fuckin’ way. Hey, don’t you remember me? Gino. Gino Novitsky, from AP Bio.”
“Oh! Yeah, hi Gino. Been a while.” He stalls awkwardly and Spock can guess that he doesn’t remember Gino that well at all.
“This is my crew, uh, Commander Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, Doctor McCoy.”
“Crew? What are ya now, a pilot or something?” McCoy’s eye twitches, Jim’s lips tick, and Uhura makes a sad, frustrated noise.
“No, I’m a starship captain.”
“Huh. You don’t say.” He offers his arm for Uhura’s bags and she gives them to him. Jim thinks sort of sadly that he’s from a part of the country that still thinks women are below men. Or maybe Gino just wants to get in her pants.
They walk toward the exit. Spock looks forlornly outside and sees only white. He has never liked snow.
“Hey, you ain’t the James T Kirk who blew up Vulcan, are you?” Jim blinks at him for a moment. Spock’s fists tighten. McCoy is the one who says something first though.
“A crazy Romulan sucked Vulcan into a black hole. Jim is the one who tried to save it. And you should watch your mouth, you little--”
“Bones,” Jim cuts in warily. “Yeah, that would be us, Gino.” He sits in the back of the vehicle unquestioningly. Uhura joins him and McCoy follows. Spock takes the passenger seat. Very little is spoken on the drive into Riverside. There is some quiet conversation from Uhura and McCoy, but Gino is stoically silent, as are Jim and Spock. When they maneuver their way up the rocky drive to Jim’s home he pays Gino, wishes him a merry Christmas, and collects his things.
“Well. Think that cracks the top five list of most uncomfortable car rides. And you wouldn’t believe what kind of car rides I have been on. Yikes.” Laughing, he queues in the code for entry, and the house greets them. Jim drops all his things in the middle of the living room and takes the dust coverings off the furniture with no reverence for a place long missed.
“Let’s see...three bedrooms upstairs...one bathroom...I think this is the den, oh! No, guess this is my mom’s room...It was a den when I was a kid. So four bedrooms. Have your picks.” He turns around and smiles.
“Not as big as I’d pictured. Nice though.” Uhura looks around and Jim feels like he’s been inspected and found lacking. The feeling is hardly new though, so he just smiles. He knows there are things that need doing and there’s no time like the present.
“I’m off to town to pick up some groceries. Can somebody give me a hand, or are you all too excited to snoop through my medicine cabinet?”
“Sorry, Jim, but I’ve got some heavy jet-lag,” McCoy claims the only room on the first floor and Jim watches him take off his shirt and belt before collapsing into bed. Jim smiles kinda wistfully at his best friend. How predictable he is.
“I’m sorry, Jim. I’m in the same boat as Leonard. If I don’t get a modicum of sleep, I’ll bite your head off. Again.” She smiles an apology and starts up the stairs. Well, maybe she’s not so bad. Jim looks at Spock, eyebrows raised.
“I will accompany you, Captain.”
“Jim, Spock! Call me Jim!” He shoves his feet into his boots and grabs his coat and hat. As he’s leaving he donnes gloves. On the porch, in the awful winter brightness he looks back at Spock.
“Where’s your stuff?”
“I was not aware I’d need my belongings to purchase groceries.”
“No, Pointy, your winter clothes.”
“I am not cold.”
“Didn’t you bring anything ?”
“I brought toiletries, clothes that are not regulation, my meditation mat--”
“No, Spock. Did you bring any clothes for snow? Boots, a coat that isn’t the uniform’s sorry excuse for one, hat, scarf, gloves?”
“I am a Vulcan, and as such have superior tolerance to your planet’s weather.”
Jim makes a pained noise and walks down the rickety, snow covered steps toward something that is most likely a vehicle covered in snow. Spock follows and they walk through snow that’s thigh high. About three quarters the distance to said vehicle, Spock begins to think that maybe his Vulcan control is not superior when the snow is in his shoes. Jim pries open the driver’s side door and roots around for something on the floor. He comes up with a device that he uses to scrape snow off the windshield and hood of the car.
“How do you propose we get it out of the driveway?” Spock looks at the two-track lane behind the car, which had substantially less snow that the walk to and from the house, but still quite a lot. (Exact measurements unknown at this time, as his fingers are starting to numb.)
“Oh, please.” Jim smiles, starting the car. He makes no move to enter it yet and Spock wonders why. “I can handle that. This was my car, back when. She listens to me.”
“Jim, why have we not entered the vehicle?”
“Gotta let her warm up first.” He rubs his hands together and smiles across the hood at Spock. Jim thinks, for the millionth time, how good he looks. Not necessarily handsome, or pleased, or any of the words one may conventionally use. But the brightness of Iowa’s winter makes the barest stubble noticeable, the green blush on the high points of his cheeks and ears. His eyes have caught the light and look chocolatey now. Jim can see blue streaks where the sun hits his hair. He is entranced by him. Spock looks back at him and he looks down.
“Are you cold?” Jim tries to read him.
“Yes,” Spock looks down, as if admitting a horrible secret. Jim knew it anyway and laughs.
“Well we better get a move on then.” Of course, the car was far from warm, but there wasn’t much Jim could do besides turn the heat up. He’d forgotten what a bitch that damn two-track was when it was buried in snow. Jim’s a competent driver though so they make it out.
“I can’t believe I did that.” He is positively radiating pride and excitement. He looks at Spock with the Kirk smile, and Spock almost smiles back.
“You are a Starfleet captain, Jim. This is not outside your realm of capability.” Jim smiles again, duller this time. Spock wonders if he had smiled back at him, if that would have lifted his spirits. He cannot make himself though. The moment has passed.
“So, I thought I could swing through a convenience store, but you need a coat and boots. So we’ll go to a supermarket. Little longer drive but more of a selection, for me too.”
Spock opens his mouth to protest, but feels the snow in his shoes and the ache in his fingers and says instead, “Gloves as well, Jim?”
Jim laughs, “Of course, Mr. Spock.” As it turns out, Jim is an experienced driver, even on the slick winter roads. When Spock comments on this Jim chuckles and says, “I’ve learned from my mistakes. It’s been rougher than this before.”
The ‘supermarket’ is very busy and Jim gives Spock control of the cart. Spock was unaware that these things were still in use. Jim explains that Iowa “is like 5,000 years behind everyone and everything else, I swear to God.” He first leads Spock to an aisle filled with glass and plastic bottles.
“For the good doctor,” he says, gently setting a fifth of something blue with Romulan script in the cart.
“I thought this was illegal,” Spock says quietly. He picks it up and looks at it. Almost cracks the seal to smell it, when--
“Don’t open it, Jesus.” Jim snatches it away and repositions it in a different place in the cart. “It's illegal in intergalactic space, and on Starfleet grounds, but most places other than that serve and sell it.” He moves along the aisle. “For me,” he says reverently, placing another bottle in the cart.
“What is this?” Spock asks, refraining from touching.
“Good old fashioned whiskey. Jack Danials been in business for over 400 years. That’s quality, Spock.”
Jim looks perplexed, eyes sweeping the aisle. “What should I get Uhura?”
“Which is the clear one?”
“Ah...vodka, probably. Does she mix it with anything? Cranberry juice?”
“Thanks, Spock.” He sets off to retrieve the items, Spock following.
“Was this all you wanted to purchase?” Spock asks, looking at the sheer amount of alcohol in their cart.
“No, Spock. We need food too. I need to get Bones’ Christmas gift, your clothes. I should’ve made a list. Here, we’ll start with you. What size shoes?”
That question was of course the jumping off point for a fiasco that took almost 30 minutes when really it should have taken only 15. Spock, apparently, is vehemently against buying things other people’s feet have been in, something about germs and strangers. All this for a pair of ugly but reasonably priced boots. The coat was easier, even though Spock refused to try any of them on so Jim had to guess his size. The gloves, also were impossible because suddenly Spock had to sift through all of them to find the pair that had been touched the least, which ironically meant him touching all of them. Jim was tempted to crack open a bottle right there in the store and just start guzzling. He didn’t though. He kept his cool. Even when he saw a woman across the frozens section who starts teetering toward them on high heeled boots. The girl couldn’t have been more than 5’1. She had an inordinate amount of makeup on with her hair dyed a terrible shade of red.
“Jim Kirk! is that you?”
“Maria, you haven’t aged a day past 18! Look at you!” Jim seems irritated but his tone suggests friendliness. He offers her a warm smile.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Oh, just buying groceries. Same as you.”
“No, babydoll, in Iowa. Last I heard you were out there in space, saving the planet.”
“Only on weekdays.” Jim has resumed his shopping, putting food in the cart but not obviously ignoring this woman who has several small things in a basket.
“Well aren’t you gonna ask about me? Haven’t seen you in 10 years and you’re still just as self-obsessed as you were.”
“How are you, Maria?”
“You wouldn’t believe it, Jimmy, but Lucas Porter asked me to marry him.” She holds out her hand and Jim looks at the rock on her finger, “Gorgeous, Maria. I’m happy for you.”
“We’ve been together 5 years now, Jimmy. Got us twins, a boy and a girl. Ain’t that the best?”
“Absolutely,” Jim says, jerking his head at Spock to motion for them to continue down the aisle. The woman teeters after them, she talks a lot and Jim pretends to listen. They don’t stop their shopping. Jim gets chocolate chips, raising his eyebrows wickedly at Spock.
“Jim,” he says, the first time he’s spoken since the woman approached them, “I object to the purchasing of chocolate.”
“Who’s this?” Maria looks over at him like she’s just now noticing that the cart isn’t pushing itself.
“I am Commander Spock.”
“Oh,” she quiets her voice, “Is he one of those guys that got his planet blown up?” Jim sighs painfully.
“Yeah, Maria,” he says at a normal volume, “he is. And I’m buying him chocolate chips and he has to deal with it.” He smiles tightly at the woman who looks confused by this turn of events. “Have a good holiday. Send my best to Lou and the kids.” They walk off brusquely. “Jesus Christ,” he says.
“Her husband’s name was Lucas, not Lou,” Spock interjects.
“I don’t care. We’ve been in this store for almost two hours and I’m gonna break something.” Jim grabs McCoy’s Christmas gift, which is a stethoscope with a happy face on the chestpiece.
“This is ironic because Doctor McCoy has appalling bedside manner,” Spock says, trying to lighten Jim’s mood.
“You got it.” He gets in a long checkout line and they wait 20.4 minutes. When they make it to the cashier, Spock is appalled to see they are being waited on, not by a malfunctioning machine, but a woman who is chewing gum and appears to be in no rush. She languidly scans their merchandise while Jim becomes more and more agitated.
“ID for the alcohol, sir.” Jim flashes his Starfleet badge and she squints at it, then up at him, then back at it.
“Jimmy Kirk, huh. You’ve got enough alcohol to kill a horse. You’re takin’ after your deadbeat daddy I see.”
“Don’t think you have the right guy.”
“Who’s the loser your momma shacked up with for 20 years then?”
“That would be my stepdad. Frank.”
“Guess he passed on some great family traits. That’ll be $156.53,” Jim pays the bill in cash, “Lousy putz. You fly off for 7 years and come back with a devil-lookin’ alien to frog around our town like you belong here again.”
“How much do you make, checking out people’s groceries?”
“None ya damn business.”
“Thought so. Merry Christmas.” He leaves a twenty on her checkout counter and collects their things.
“I love Iowa.”
They trudge through the snow until they find the car and Jim angrily stuffs the bags in the hatchback.
“Who was that woman?” Spock asks.
“I have no idea.”
“Do I look like your Earth devil?”
“What? No, oh God, no. I’m sorry she said that. This place is a disaster.” They get in the car and Jim turns on the radio and pounds the buttons until he finds something he likes, then he turns it up more.
“The people in your town seem...prejudiced.” Spock ventures slowly and loudly.
“Damn right they are! All of them.” He drives faster but the car does not falter.
There is a dusk beginning to settle over the landscape and Spock remembers how dark it gets and how early the bright snow looks eerie.
Once they pull up at Kirk’s house, Uhura and Bones venture out on the porch.
“We thought you’d gotten yourselves killed! We were calling the morgues!” Uhura leaps off the porch steps in her Starfleet issue combat boots. Kirk thinks she’s going to jump Spock, but she just walks over to them.
“The hell were you two up to? It’s been two hours.” McCoy is not quite so enthusiastic about their return.
“Spock is incapable of buying clothing and the people here are dicks. That’s the gist. Wanna help us carry this stuff inside and I’ll cook dinner?” They shuffle over the snow and inside the house, which has warmed in earnest since they left.
“Spock, here, cut the tags off this and put it by the door.” Jim is too tired to contribute much to the conversation, or really follow it. He makes food that he knows they’ll eat. He is sort of drained of this place, these people. He’s wondering if coming here was such a good idea.
“This is really good, Jim,” Uhura says as she eats in small bites.
“I didn’t know your body could tolerate, let alone cre ate, anything other than steak and cheeseburgers,” McCoy says, laughing at his own bad jokes.
“This meal turned out quite well,” Spock has picked the peas out of the casserole, but far be it from Jim to care at this point. He’s content with their praise, but he doesn’t feel anything from it.
“What time is it?” he asks as he finishes his second helping.
“1700 or so,” Uhura says.
“We can drink at five, right? We aren’t bad people if we drink at five, right? Because I really need a drink.”
“I’ve started earlier,” McCoy shrugs. “Why the desperate urge to drink?”
“You would not believe the time I had at that supermarket.”
“Really.” McCoy deadpans.
Uhura laughs and Jim clears the table and brings out three tumblers. The booze sits like a holiday centerpiece along with a bag of chocolate chips. Jim pours himself a nice whiskey on ice and drinks it very quickly, then pours himself another. Uhura thanks him for the cosmos and McCoy says nothing even though that ale cost him more than Spock’s coat and boots combined. The conversation is pleasant and focused on the missions they’ve completed this year. Jim regails them with stories of his heroism on foreign planets with wide gestures. He slaps Spock’s chest on accident once and the conversation degrades into laughter for a solid minute. The more the humans drink, the happier they get. Spock sighs and opens the chocolate chips. They stop talking.
“No way,” Jim says reverently. Spock eats a handful of chocolate. “I wish to partake in the festivities.” I wish to be as you are.
“To Spock!” McCoy yells, and they all raise their glasses calling, “To Spock!” Jim elbows him and smiles his shiny sunshine smile at him. Spock doesn’t smile back but he wants to. He wants to so badly.
He eats the chocolate pieces one at a time steadily.
They talk for a while more about the year and Spock even cracks a few jokes, “Copulating with the O’qkyn representative wasn’t the worst thing I have done. For the Federation.” They are loud for a while and then they turn quiet.
“Why would you come back here?” Spock hears himself say, “If everyone thinks so badly of you.”
Jim laughs before McCoy can yell.
“Listen, guys,” his eyes clear up for a moment, and Spock recalls that sometimes drunk people can be sober enough to tell you something important before the drunkenness swallows them up again. “Everyone,” he looks at them all, but his eyes stay on Uhura longer, “has an idea of you. What they think about you, and what you do, and how you do it. And who you are. And they tell everyone--and you--and they talk like they know, but they don’t. None of these people know me. They haven’t been where I’ve been. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and I know that, and that’s why I don’t care about this place or what they say.” He nods and takes a drink.
“I’m sorry I called you an alcoholic,” Uhura says softly. Spock’s brain tries to remember that event and the context. Jim seems to instantly.
“It’s okay, Lieutenant! We do bar hop a bit, don’t we?” he looks at Bones.
“Lousy night for it,” he looks down.
“Why?” Uhura asks.
“I haven’t seen my baby since she was six and I haven’t talked to her in seven months. I was gonna spend Christmas with her in Georgia but Jocelyn screwed me over. Again.” He clears his throat and looks at the rest of them.
“I’m sorry, Leonard.” Uhura speaks first.
“Yeah,” Jim says, and his eyes are far away from them. He clears his throat and feels it fill with rocks.
He shakes his head and clears his eyes, something that does not go unnoticed by Spock. McCoy looks just as far, staring down into his drink.
“You know, Jimbo, I’m thinking I’m gonna turn in. Goddamn wife screwing with my head.”
“Good night, old man.” Jim gives him a sympathetic smile and Bones doesn’t even make a rebuttal.
“Huh.” Jim looks down into his drink. Looks up and meets Spock’s eyes. Looks down at his drink.
Spock feels only a degree of intoxication from the chocolate and wonders why humans favor this activity so much. He excuses himself, feeling once again like a stone in a river. Not quite like what he is surrounded by, but surrounded by it all the same.
The bedroom he has upstairs is the guest quarters. How fitting that even amongst his closest comrades he is a guest.
In his foggy mind, as he tries to conjure up the field in his head where her meditates. It is blurry and the ground is green, the sky is red and there is a sun like Sol but brighter like a command tunic. He tries to clear his mind of the spaceport and the solitaire and the driving and the grocery store, but he can’t seem to get past a fissure that happened 2 weeks, 6 days and 15 hours ago.
He is above her, looking down and thinking how aesthetically pleasing she is. He kisses the flat bone between her breasts but she stops him.
“Spock? What are we doing?”
He looks at her and tilts his head. “At present?”
“No. I mean, what are we doing in this relationship?”
We are courting one another, are we not?”
She stands and slips back into her yellow negligee. Spock feels a warm foreboding bloom in his stomach that he promptly staunches. He stands as well and puts on his trousers.
“We were, but now? Now I don’t know...Spock, I want you to tell me something, alright?”
“I am always honest with you, ashayam .”
“When is Jim’s birthday?” He is startled by this query, as it was unexpected but he still retains his eidetic memory.
“January 22, 2233.”
“When is my birthday?”
He furrows his brow. “Your date of birth is March 15, 2233.”
She runs a hand through her hair. “Spock! For God’s sake it was three days ago!”
He looks into his memory bank, finds that his previous information was incorrect and substitutes this new data. “My apologies, Nyota.”
She huffs a breath. “People said happy birthday to me. All day long, everyone on the bridge, hell, Jim even had the galley replicate me a cake! You were there, how did you not see that?”
He had been aware, on the perimeter of his mind, the unusual chaos of that day: the singing, the pastry, the idle conversation. But, as always, when he starts his bridge shift, he does his job. He does not talk to the humans. When he eats his meals he only talks to those in his immediate vicinity. He does not stray far from ship’s business. He had no idea the excess insanity was in any way related to Nyota. He doesn’t intermingle with the humans.
“I want you to tell me something else. Can you be honest again?”
“Vulcans do not lie.” Going by her last query of this sort, he is unsure what to expect this time. He hypothesizes he will be surprised again.
“Do you hold the Captain in a higher regard than me?”
In the span of 11 seconds his mind processes five images:
Kirk smiling at him across the bridge, and hearing his mother’s haunting soprano voice singing an earth song about owning the sunshine.
Kirk’s “Checkmate” and how Spock has an awful itch to throw his head back and cry out with irritation but doesn’t.
How sometimes Spock can hear Kirk singing in the shower and how he stops his work to listen.
When Spock wakes up with the awful fog of a head injury to a dark and quiet sickbay, and Kirk is sitting in a chair by his bedside wearing thin glasses. Kirk sees him, smiles as brittle as his spectacles, and reaches out, placing his hand on Spock’s bed. It’s a symbol. How badly Spock wants to reach back.
How cold engineering was, how he could almost hear the radiation in the air. How he could not touch him. How, for one goddamn minute he would have touched him in every way, just to tell him goodbye. But he can’t, so he watches Jim’s sightless eyes fade away.
He lies to Nyota for the first time. “No.”
She sees right through it. He can’t say he blames her.
She sighs and ties her hair up, looking at him. He looks back at her unflinchingly and wonders if this is the last time he’ll be in her quarters or see the yellow negligee. He thinks it over 90% likely in both cases.
“I’m gonna tell you why you and Kirk won’t work out. Not to be mean, or spiteful, Spock. But because I don’t want you to get hurt... You tune us out. You may be familiar with us, but when we do the things that make us human, like talk before shift, or have parties, or make jokes, or even talk about birthdays and holidays and homes-- you go somewhere else. You decide you don’t need that to work optimally. You don’t need it to do your job, that’s true, but to be a crewmate you need to live like one. I know your DNA is 50% human, but I don’t see it. And Jim Kirk? He’s got a lot of humanity in him. I don’t know if you can do that.” She takes a breath. Spock holds up a hand for her to stop. He puts on his shirt and his shoes.
“I am sorry,” he says quietly, “that our relationship has come to this regretful conclusion. I will continue to be an unbiased commanding officer and I would like us to remain...acquaintances. I will bring you the items you have stored in my quarters tomorrow evening.”
He hears the door swish quietly behind him, and that is all he hears for hours afterward.
He wonders how two people can love each other so much and not know how.
Jim’s pretty sure Uhura’s wasted. He can’t really be 100% though, because he’s wasted too, but he thinks she is. He stopped counting after her fourth drink because that was right around when Spock started eating chocolate and he wanted to see what would happen there. Which was nothing. Nothing! How boring is that? Finally the guy loosens up and nothing happens! Why does he even bother?
He’s been telling her stories for like 45 minutes about girls he’s dated (and a few guys, let’s be real here) and she keeps laughing. These aren’t all that funny stories, but the more she laughs, the more he laughs and they’re a mess on his couch pretty soon.
“I should tell you about Sophia Martinez, she was the prettiest girl I ever knew. She...I loved her so much. Big, big boobs and pretty green eyes with this long hair dyed blue like the sky. We had a lot of fun together. She was smart too, read more Shakespeare than me, and that’s saying something.” She’s still laughing and she looks over at him and he smiles back.
“What happened? Did you screw that one up too?”
“No, she crashed her hoverbike and died.”
“Oh. Oh, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, Captain.” She puts a hand over her mouth and looks in her lap. He’s horrified that she’s going to vomit all over herself and his furniture at three AM. That would be really fun to clean up.
“It was a long time ago. It just..happened. Bad things happen.” He sets his drink down. Suddenly he isn’t very thirsty anymore.
He looks up and there are tears rolling down her cheeks. He is at once alarmed and distinctly uncomfortable.
“Uhura, you’re drunk. Let me help you.” He stands up, sways for a moment and crosses to her.
“I just,” she stands and takes his arm, “I sometimes forget you’re a person, you know? Like, you’re real and you’re my boss but sometimes I think you’re just...just…” she trails off and Jim throws his arm around her waist. “Come on, Lieutenant, let’s get you to bed.” He thinks mournfully about how drunk girls do this so much and he also thinks that this is going to be so awkward for her in the morning and he’ll love it.
“Like, like I used to hate you. I’m sorry about that. But have you met you? But like, you’ve lived a whole life and I was so mean to you--”
“It’s alright, it’s fine. I was an ass. Hell, I still am.” He clumsily drops her on her bed and takes off her shoes.
“I’m sorry, Jim. I didn’t know you were so kind.”
He smiles and draws the blanket back. “You’re my lieutenant, my crew. We’re friends.” She awkwardly adjusts herself in bed and he leaves and comes back with a glass of water and two red pills.
“Goodnight, Uhura.” He flicks off the light as he leaves.
As expected, nobody rises early the next morning. Even Spock sleeps in by a margin of 39%. He wakes up at 0920 and is immediately embarrassed by his failure to wake on time. As he brushes his teeth he comforts himself with the knowledge that his housemates are still asleep as well.
Creeping down the stairs, he is unsettled by the fact that he is not familiar with his surroundings. He looks in four cupboards before he finds a glass and fills it with water. He drinks all of it. He doesn’t know much about cooking and Jim is not awake to show him. Spock drinks another glass of water. He looks at Jim’s house, how bare it is. The tumblers have been placed in the dishwasher and are done. He puts them away. Clears his throat. It is quite bright in Jim’s kitchen.
Spock creeps back upstairs and makes his bed. Donning civilian clothing he settles on top of the comforter and allows his mind to blank wonderfully.
When he leaves his room, the others in the house have gathered around the counter in varying states of alertness. He thinks perhaps an hour has gone by.
“Morning, Commander,” Jim says quietly. He is wearing black pants and a sweater with a decorated tree on it. He is the only one of the three who is dressed fully. He is drinking orange juice and eating a bagel.
“Good morning, Captain.”
“Jim,” Jim mutters.
“Then I must insist you call me Spock.” Spock takes the glass he’d drank water from and fills it with orange juice.
“What? Yeah.” Jim rubs his eyes.
“You’ll have to excuse us, Mr. Spock. We’re all a little slow this morning.” McCoy takes half of Jim’s bagel and Spock doesn’t think he even notices. Overindulgence in alcohol , Spock’s brain supplies.
“Are you alright, Nyota?” Spock asks quietly, leaning down to catch her eye.
“Peachy,” she says in a scratchy voice. She is wearing the fluffy blue bathrobe Spock was always so fond of, and her hair is messy. He finally understands the human colloquialism, “looks like hell”.
“You know this,” McCoy says, turning toward her, “The only way to get rid of the nausea is to eat something.”
“Fine,” she says, bringing her mug to her lips. “See? I’m eating coffee.” Jim chuckles and walks into the kitchen. Spock follows him with his cup in his hands.
“Good morning,” he says, looking at Jim in profile as he opens a plastic bag and removes a bagel.
“Said that already,” he says cutting it in half.
“I...yes, I think I might have.”
“I’m kidding, Spock,” Jim turns and smiles his sunshine smile and the voice of Spock’s long-dead mother echoes eerily through his mind, distorted with time and the fault of his memory.
“Yes, it appears you are.”
He puts the bagel in the toaster and looks at Spock. “Are you okay? You got kinda quiet.”
“My mother often celebrated Christmas when I was a child.” He watches in mystification as the blood drains from Jim’s face.
“I’m really sorry, Spock. I’ve been so focused on me that I’d forgotten about you. How are you holding up?”
He looks down. “I find I cannot always recall what her voice sounds like.”
Jim looks at him as he opens the refrigerator and his profile is hued by crystalized water particles he exhales.
“That’s normal,” he says faintly. It’s possibly the quietest Spock has ever heard Jim speak. “It’s incredibly sad either way, but it is...normal. Time is a constant.” He closes the door. “Still, the first Christmas without someone is...hard. I know, really, I know.” He clears his throat and begins spreading thick, white cream cheese on the bagel. Spock can see a tremor in his fingers. He knows Jim’s breathing his not increased in speed, but is somehow hoarse. Spock is unsure what this means.
“I would like to add an addendum to the statement about you focusing on yourself and ‘forgetting me’,” Spock says, clasping his hands behind his back.
“Go for it,” says Jim, licking the knife clean and placing in the sink.
“Jim, in all the time I have known you, I have very rarely thought of you as selfish. This excursion into the tundra of Iowa is no exception. As evidence, I would call into play the alcohol you bought your friends, the amount of money and time you spent overlooking my clothing oversight, the money you left for the cashier, and my suspicion that the bagel you have prepared is for Lieutenant Uhura. In conclusion, you have not made an oversight in your neglect to recall my loss. You are not forgetting my needs or my thoughts. In order for you to do that you would have to not see me. You are one of the only people who ever sees me.” He wonders what else he is supposed to do in this scenario to assage Jim’s misplaced guilt.
The color has returned to Jim’s face tenfold and Spock wonders if the last two sentences were out of line but Jim smiles softly and says, “Sometimes I feel like you’re the only person who ever sees me too.”
He walks into the kitchen and places the plate in front of Nyota with an audible click. Spock feels analogous to the knife in the sink. He doesn’t feel quite as heavy as stone, either.
They all sit around eating an extended breakfast before Jim asks, “So, seriously guys, it’s your only full day here, what do you want to do? I have some ideas but they all involve snow.”
“Is lying here all day one of them?” Bones asks.
“How does that involve snow.”
“We’re surrounded by it! I don’t think they could find us with a drone. Hell, I don’t think we could find us, even with Scotty manning the controls.”
“Chekov could find us. My ship could find anything. I could get it to beam back one tiny snowflake off of a bunny’s ear and it could do it without hurting the bunny.”
“Is that what you think about in the shower?”
“Oh, screw you. You got me distracted anyway. Snowball fights, ice skating, snowshoeing, sled riding, hockey…”
“My God, they do all involve snow.”
“...snowpeople building, skiing, snowboarding--”
“I’m gonna have to stop you here, kid. Partly on the grounds that I’m too old for everything you’ve just said but also because, and I can’t stress this enough, I don’t want to step one foot--no, one toe outside this house until we leave. I am going to eat popcorn and watch sports all day today. That is it.”
“But it’s Christmas Eve, Bones. We’re on Earth for once. On Earth in snow . How great is that?”
“Lots of places in space have snow. I didn’t hear you building snow people when Spock froze you on Delta Vega.”
“Um, one, because I was running for my life from the abominable snowman and two, and I can’t stress this enough , it wasn’t Christmas Eve . ”
“Jim,” McCoy says, putting a hand on his shoulder, “I haven’t had a real day off in three years. The ones I have had I spent in sleazy bars and cheap motel rooms. Now I’m on Earth, in a real house. On Christmas Eve. I am going to lay on this couch, watch sports, and eat.”
Jim sighs and looks around. Nobody says anything. Finally Uhura says, “You said you had a hot tub?” Jim groans.
“You wore me down. It’s in here.” He turns and beckons her to follow him down some stairs off the kitchen and into a basement. The Jacuzzi is apparently rather nice, because Spock hears Uhura say, “Holy crap,” in that tone women take on when they see things like chocolate or flower gardens and are told they can have them. (Or so Jim thinks; he’s only made a few women happy enough to emit this noise.)
“There should be some of my mom’s swimsuits left in that closet, and there are towels in there too.”
“This must have cost so much,” she says, taking off her terrycloth robe.
“Wouldn’t know,” he says, starting back upstairs, “came with the house.”
Jim is restless, this much Spock can tell. McCoy is lying across the couch watching some kind of Earth sporting event. Spock has settled on the floor in front of the couch, where Jim was originally. Since that point, he has gone from room to room, tidying things. He has returned with two separate paper books and settled to read each one, only to leave minutes later, the book splayed open to mark his place.
Spock gets to his feet and pads into the kitchen, where Jim is scrubbing the countertops.
“It would be logical to let the automated House do that instead, it is much more efficient.”
“Yeah, well. Gives my arm exercise.” He looks down and then up at Spock.
“Have you met me?”
“Are you planning on ordering a meal, or making one?”
“Tonight? Oh God, I didn’t even think of that. I don’t think anything’s open so I guess I’ll just make one.” He throws open the refrigerator.
“We’re leaving at eleven tomorrow, so we have to eat all this food because I’m not taking any of it with me.”
“What meal can one make with...a turkey breast, potatoes and spinach?”
“Why, a classic Christmas meal, Mr. Spock. We’ll eat turkey, which isn’t ham, but it’s good enough. And mashed potatoes. And a greens salad. And we’ll cook it. Oh yeah!” Jim smiles and begins throwing things around: turkey in the oven, salad in a bowl. Spock suspects he’s excited to actually be doing something.
“Well, Spock, I’m going to need your Vulcan strength.”
“At your service, Captain.”
“Can you mash these potatoes?”
“I will do so to the best of my ability.” Child’s play .
“You know, once we’re done with this, we can go do something outdoors. In the snow.”
Spock is not blind to the hopeful note in Kirk’s voice but that doesn’t mean he finds the idea or venturing outside any more appealing.
“I...suppose for a time, if it is necessary we can go outside.”
The look on Jim’s face is worth it. It even makes Spock mash faster as Jim sets the timer on the oven and puts the greens in the crisper.
“Can you ice skate?”
Jim’s not actually sure what the hell that means, but he thinks it’s an elaborate from of no . Now knowing Spock’s shoe size, he aggressively helps him put on skates.
Bones has fallen asleep as they move through the living room and don their winter apparel. It’s chilly outside, no doubt, but blessedly sunny. Or so Jim thinks. Spock would approximate frigid. Perhaps absolute zero. He doubts the effectiveness of human clothing. He maintains ruthless control though, not a soul would know. Jim doesn’t stop talking once they’re outside. He laughs at his own jokes and Spock is amazed that they’ve come to this point in their relationship. Nyota had explained to him on previous Christmases that humans value the holidays. They choose to spend them with those they admire, those they have camaraderie with. Bonds. Families. Spock looks at Jim, framed by Sol and the white snow and even though he is cold, and he’s lost track of what Jim is saying, he feels home. It’s a warm feeling, almost like floating.
“So, like, he was just the best snowman maker I ever knew. But he’s gone and I don’t think there’s any snow on Deneva. But there’s plenty of it here.”
They have found themselves at a pond. Spock always knew the definition of ice skating, but never had he practiced the sport.
Jim steps on the ice and does a few shaky circles around the pond. “Ice is definitely thick enough,” he calls and skates back to Spock. “Come on, give it a go.”
Spock eyes the ice with suspicion.
“Come on,” he says again, “what’s the worst that could happen?”
“I think the absolute worst case is--”
“You’ll fall on your ass. That’s it.”
Jim holds out a hand.
There are only two sharp blades tethering him to the ice. Jim, for his part, doesn’t leave Spock to his own devices, for which he is immensely (secretly) grateful. He offers him his elbow, which Spock takes, and Jim leads him in slow circles.
“It’s okay, Spock,” Jim says, laughing. He is thinking simultaneously that it’s a miracle Spock made it to 31 without having to do this, especially in Starfleet, and also how cute it is.
“Okay,” Jim says, coming to a halt and gliding in front of him, “I’m kicking you out of the nest.”
“Captain?” Spock says, and he lets a modicum of panic seep into his voice, not entirely intentionally.
“Spock, just try it, for Christ’s sake.”
“Vulcan’s are a desert bred race. I am not used to this sport. I have never done this before, it is not logical that I start now.” Jim tries to stifle a laugh.
“Like me,” he says and shows Spock the correct technique (again) and sprays ice at him as he stops.
“You’ve got standing, alright? Try moving .”
Spock starts to skate and he is aware of how unpracticed and stilted his movements are. Jim cheers and whips around the pond, completing a jump in the middle before returning to Spock on the side.
“Very good,” Spock says.
“Well, I had a lot of time to practice. You’re doing great, honestly.” Jim looks at Spock, and they hold eye contact for a moment. There’s a light snowfall and snowflakes are trapped in the bangs on his forehead and in his eyelashes. Jim thinks it so novel that he gets to do this with Spock of all people. That finally no one is gunning for the Federation and they get to just...ice skate.
On his fourth solo lap around the pond, as Spock had calculated with 97% certainty, he falls spectacularly.
“Wow! You really biffed it!” Jim skates over, laughing. He reaches down to grab his hand and Spock grabs ahold with vigour, trying to right himself but unintentionally yanking Jim down with him. Jim tries to laugh it off but Spock sees him flinch. Jim stands shakily and helps Spock up again, still snickering and covered in snow, a trait now shared by Spock.
“Well, now we both biffed it.” Jim laughs and rubs the snow off Spock’s head and ears. Spock watches the blue in Jim’s eyes change with the light.
“Would you like to go back to the house?”
“Very much so.”
Jim walks to the edge of the pond and looks back at him, squinting in the sun.
He smiles at him and Spock’s mother’s voice echoes all around him, You are my sunshine, my only sunshine …
“You know,” he says, sitting down in the snow and pulling Spock with him by his forearm, “I’m glad I brought you guys here with me. Home can be scary, even when there’s no family. Maybe especially when there's no family.”
“I understand,” Spock says truthfully.
“I lived here, in this house, for something like 20 years. Talked to all these people, drank at all these bars, slept in the bed I’m sleeping in tonight, every night back then. I didn’t fit in at all. Mean stepdad, flight-risk brother, mom who was gone all the time. No friends. Not long-term anyway. And I thought, at first, that Starfleet was gonna save me. But it didn’t, not in the way I wanted it to.--”
“Sorry, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. I just...was always on the outside here, and was always on the outside there, like the only cloud in the sky, or the only guy at a baby shower. The only Vulcan on a Starship.” He looks at Spock and Spock looks away. “And I was just so pathetically alone, like I love Bones, he’s my best friend, I’d kill for him, die for him, lie for him, but he’s just...Sorry...My point got lost in there, but I’m not angry or lonely anymore. Not for the most part. Fuck this town full of ignorant people and fuck these ghosts. I’ve got you and Uhura and Bones, and so many people who are there and competent and able to be accessed. I’m not an outsider anymore. Do you know what I mean?”
Spock thinks of all the people he’ll never understand, of Uhura telling him this would happen.
“No, Jim, I’m afraid I do not.” Humanity is such a funny thing. It runs and hides just as much as it shines. Illogical, how he can love Jim so much and not know how.
The meal Jim has prepared is excellent. Uhura is still in her bathrobe and her hair is wet. McCoy says a human prayer and Jim and Spock sit at opposite ends of the table. The food is plain but plentiful and McCoy comments on how lovely the meat is over and over. The humans eat turkey in excess, mashed potatoes as well, and it makes Spock’s green plate look lacking.
“Can you please pass the turkey?” he asks.
No way , Jim thinks for the second time. He wonders if this is atonement for their conversation outside, although he he knows it’s not Spock’s fault that he can’t grasp people. If anything, it’s Jim’s. He’ll will never be a good enough partner for Spock. He loves him in some way, that’s true, just...not in the right way. He watches Spock eat and lets Bones and Uhura carry the conversation along until the food is gone and everyone is full. They watch a Christmas movie that come out about 40 years ago and is revered as a classic. A few drinks are shared, (not many, not as many as the night before) and everyone gets ready for bed. Jim uses the water shower and orders House to turn the temperature up until his skin is red. He puts on sleep pants and an old sweatshirt and cleans his teeth. Downstairs, Uhura and Bones are cleaning the dishes and putting them away.
“Merry Christmas Eve, Bones. Nyota.” She looks over her shoulder and smiles (smiles!) at him before putting a pan in its place in the cupboard.
“Merry Christmas Eve, Jim,” she says tiredly.
“Hey,” he says, quietly, but with mirth in his tone, ”I got you guys Christmas presents.”
“Oh, joy,” McCoy says, coming up to join them.
“Come here, let’s sit on the couch.”
He pulls out two bags and hands one to each.
“You first, dear,” he says to Bones, who opens his gift wearily.
“You little brat,” he snarls, staring at the happy face with a decidedly unhappy one of his own. “Swear on my life, next three Christmas’ you’re getting vitamin hypos.”
“You’re welcome, dear,” Jim says, guffawing into his sleeve.
“Now, for the lovely, Nyota.” He turns to look at her with his baby blue eyes.
“Are you on drugs?” she asks skeptically, slowly taking off the tissue paper.
“No, just high on the holiday spirit.” She rolls her eyes.
Pulling out a tiny box, she disregards the bag to open it. Inside are two earrings made of glistening red rock. “Rubies?” she asks.
“No, those are red diamonds. They’re real pretty aren’t they?”
“Jim,” she says quietly, “these must have cost you a fortune.”
“Well,” he says, “you look good in red.” Uhura smiles and puts them on. She touches them quite a bit, most likely to make sure they’re still there.
‘Wait,” McCoy says, “She gets rare gemstones and I get a gag gift ? You really are a brat.”
Jim laughs some more and then he excuses himself to bed. “We’ve got to leave by 1100, so I’d pack tonight if I were you. And Bones? You do not get that whole cabin to yourself this time, don’t even think about it.” Jim leaves them downstairs in the living room with the lights on 50% and commands the kitchen lights be dimmed to 20%. He lies awake in his bed and hears Uhura descend the stairs and then her door closing. The house is quiet after that. He’s just about to fall asleep, thinking only of Spock’s Christmas gift (which he’ll most likely give to him on the ship) and the sense of rightness he feels here, for the first time in decades ( Frank’s gone ) when he hears it.
He gets up and walks to the head. He opens the door to find Spock on his knees in front of the throne, retching. Poor thing blew through here like a hurricane, knocking shit over the place.
“Spock, awe man.” He picks up the bottles of shampoo and aftershave that have fallen, and walks over to him. He sits on the edge of the tub and wonders what he should do for a moment before he decides not to care and sits next to him and touches his hair. Spock’s shirtless and Jim avoids touching his skin directly (that’s the least he can do, be courteous) before grabbing a box of tissues and filling a glass with water.
When Spock leans back from the toilet, Jim slams the lid and orders it to flush.
“My God,” he says, sitting next to Spock on the floor, “That was gnarly. Are you ok?”
“That was a reminder as to why I do not eat meat,” he says, blowing his nose into a tissue and wiping his eyes with another one.
“Oh, Spock, I’m sorry. It didn’t occur to me. Here, sip this.”
“Jim, you do not have to apologize to me. You did not hold a phaser to my head and make me consume this.” He sips the water and looks over at him.
“Yes, you’re right. As always.” He smiles and the sunshine song spills through Spock’s head again. His body breaks out in chills.
“Do you think you’re coming down with something?” Jim asks and abortively reaches out a hand to feel his forehead. Spock wishes he had.
“No, sir.” Jim leaps to his feet and takes off his sweatshirt. It is the same one he lived in for a month after Khan tried to steal their ship. After Spock came to know Jim as the best thing he had.
“Here,” he says, covering his hand with the sleeve and reaching down to grasp Spock’s forearm through the fabric. He gives the sweatshirt to Spock, who just holds it for a moment. This was glued to Jim for days, a constant in that period of Spock’s life. Jim was never without it, and now it was bestowed upon Spock.
“Don’t you want it?” Jim asks, putting toothpaste on Spock’s brush.
In answer Sock puts it on.
“Here,” Jim says. Spock is grateful but says nothing. After he finishes cleaning the vomit aftertaste from his mouth, he follows Jim downstairs. All the lights are off, and Jim orders Spock to sit at the table while he pours him a glass of ginger ale.
“This should settle your stomach,” he says, “I’ll be right back. I have a surprise for you. I was going to save it for when we got back, but...” He runs upstairs and returns a moment later, holding something in one hand.
“Merry Christmas,” he says quietly, placing a tiny black sack on the table in front of him.
Spock sips his soda and says levelly, “Thank you.”
Jim furrows his brow. “Aren’t you gonna open it?”
“I suppose I can to appease you, however it is illogical to give gifts to someone who doesn’t celebrate…” he trails off as he dumps red rocks on the table. Jim doesn’t know what he’d thought Spock would do, maybe start to analyze them, or say thank you, possibly accuse him of forging these things from a long-gone place, but smelling one? That wasn’t something he’d considered.
“These are real,” Spock says quietly. “These are from Vulcan Old.”
“Yeah,” Jim says. He is aware of how quiet the room has gotten. How dry his throat is. His heart is racing.
Spock looks through all of them, the big ones and the little ones and the dirt. “How did you acquire these?” he asks slowly.
“When I was 17 I went to Vulcan with my mother and Frank, and I took these home with me. They’ve been in my house for 10 years, but I think they’d be happier with you.” He coughs awkwardly. He wants to touch Spock, Jesus, he wants to touch him. If there’s one moment in time where things change, it’s this one. If only he wasn’t so scared…
“Thank you,” Spock says, “Thank you, Jim, thank you, thank--” he stumbles over to Jim and wraps his arms around him, almost lifting him.
“You’re welcome,” Jim whispers in his ear.
Spock has known this was what he’s wanted for so long, and it’s just as he’d thought it would be. “Thank you,” he says, feeling something terrible and warm. Even if he doesn’t know how to love this human he’ll learn. He’ll learn if it means just one more hug like this. He hasn’t been touched in some meaningful way in so long .
They break apart and Spock looks down at the rocks and back up at Jim.
“You have given me back part of something I thought was gone forever.” My only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray…
“I understand, Jim,” he says and Jim furrows a brow, “what you said outdoors in the snow, I said I didn’t understand, I do.” Jim looks both relieved and sad, and Spock remembers something his mother told him when he’d left for the academy: If there’s even a part of you that understands something emotional in them, say so. That’s how you make friends.
He understands now.
Jim leans over and kisses him lightly on the corner of his mouth. Spock feels the rounded tip of his ear and holds one side of his face for a moment.
“I see you, Jim Kirk. I cherish thee.” Jim’s face warms to Spock’s fingers.
“I see you too, Spock. I always have.” They stay like that for a moment and then Spock lets go and takes a drink of his soda. Jim wonders why for a moment but then hears McCoy’s door creak open. He turns and Uhura walks out, wearing skimpy underwear and a shirt that’s clearly a men’s size.
“Evening, Lieutenant,” Jim says. She turns like a deer in headlights, taking in Kirk and Spock. Then she laughs, “Figures,” she starts up the stairs, “Goodnight, gentlemen. Merry Christmas.” She closes the door behind her and Jim laughs.
“Didn’t see that one coming.”
“Myself as well,” Spock says, and Jim can’t read his tone.
“Are you alright?” he asks.
Spock thinks of sugarcoating, evading, ignoring. He doesn’t though. “I am...no longer interested in a relationship with the Lieutenant. I am interested solely in you. However, I am surprised.”
“Oh,” Jim says. “Do you want to go to bed then?”
“Yes,” he says, taking the rocks and starting upstairs, “Aren’t you coming?”
“You mean, like, together?”
Spock holds out a hand.
In the morning Jim has to remember where he is. He is happy and there’s another person lying with one hand in the middle of his chest. He looks at the chronometer and it reads 0807. He swallows the thickness in his throat and slides out of bed, looking for his clothes. He smiles privately. Last night was like coming home. He slips his pants on and fumbles around for a shirt. He can’t find it and has a bad feeling it’s in the hall, or somewhere equally telling.
“Merry Christmas,” he whispers to Spock, feeling this awful sense of love. The kind he hasn’t known in years. He’s in deep here, he knows it. He just hopes Spock is too. Spock makes a noise and curls up on the bed. Jim kisses his bangs and rubs a thumb over his lower lip, Spock makes another contented noise and leans into Jim’s touch. Jim quietly opens the door and picks up his discarded clothing: his shirt, the sweatshirt Spock was wearing. He ducks into the bathroom and changes into his dress uniform. He has somewhere to be today. When he exits the bathroom, he finds Uhura in line after him. The two make eye contact and Jim laughs again. “Good for you two,” he says, “I’m serious. I think you’ll work out, in any capacity.” She smiles at the floor.
“He’s a good guy.”
“Hell yeah he is, he’s brought us all back more times than I can count. Good drinker too--”
“I’m talking about Spock, dumbass. I have ears, you know.” Jim turns absolutely purple and his heart stops working.
“Uh, yeah, no--”
She laughs with a hand over her mouth. “Little thick on how humans work though.” She closes the bathroom door and Jim stands there for a solid minute alternately clearing his throat and taking deep breaths. Finally he just packs up the last of his things. He combs his hair again and then itches his scalp and messes it up.
Uhura is wearing her uniform and it shocks Jim how close they are to the end of this leave. How in less than 12 hours he’ll be at work again.
He orders House to start coffee. Uhura looks at him once she pours herself a cup.
“Rough night?” she asks knowingly.
“No,” he says distractedly.
“‘How was your night, Nyota?’ ‘Oh, lovely, Jim, thank you for asking, although I don’t kiss and tell.’”
“Sorry,” he mutters into his coffee.
Bones walks out of his room and says stiffly, “Good morning, Lieutenant.”
“Save it, Bones, you smell like her perfume and I saw her sneak out of there wearing your shirt.”
McCoy turns the same color Jim did 10 minutes ago before he shrugs. Uhura smiles.
Spock, unusually, is the last to wake up. He comes downstairs looking immaculate, towing a suitcase behind him.
Jim sets a mug of tea in front of him and moves all four of their suitcases to the door.
“I’ll be back in an hour or so,” he says, placing his hat on and and lacing up his dress shoes.
“Where are you going?” Uhura asks.
“To visit Mom,” he says, looking around for the car keys.
“Are we not in her house?” Spock asks, walking towards Jim.
Jim looks up at all of them. Spock, staring intently at him, Uhura and Bones in the kitchen drinking coffee and looking at him with interest.
“My mother died four months ago.”
Everyone stops dead for a moment, then they all react simultaneously.
“What?” Uhura asks, moving forward, that maternal instinct to comfort surfacing.
“I was not aware,” Spock says, backing away.
“What the hell, Jim?” McCoy asks, positively charging at him. “Why didn’t you tell me? What the hell ?” Jim puts his hands up.
“She fell down a Jefferies tube on the Excalibur . She was ejected into the black, per protocol, but I handled her will and had her personal effects buried here. I’m going to her gravesite. To say Merry Christmas.”
“I’m sorry,” says McCoy, “I know things were...awful with her for a while, but why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“What was I supposed to do, huh? Send out a ship wide briefing? I told you all, in the only way I knew how: I took two sick days in a row, and you thought I had a hangover. I had comms going in and out for 48 hours straight, Uhura. And Spock...you were just...you have that great Vulcan hearing, but you didn’t hear me throwing my padd at the wall.. So...yeah. My bad .” He finally manages to dig the keys out of the pocket of his other coat and opens the door.
“We’re coming with you, Captain,” Uhura says, putting on her boots. McCoy nods aggressively and follows suit.
“Are you coming?” he asks Spock. He nods and pushes his sense of failure back in his throat before putting his coat on over his dress uniform and tying his boots.
Jim’s mother died, just as his own had. He was grieving, just as Spock was. And Spock, poor, alien Spock-- he hadn’t even noticed. Oh don’t you know dear, how much I love you...
McCoy throws an arm around Jim’s shoulders and gives him a one armed hug. “I’m sorry, Jimmy.” He gives him another hard squeeze and ruffles his hair. Jim locks the house and unlocks the car.
“Come here,” Uhura says, and kisses him on the cheek before throwing her arms around him and hugging him something fierce. Spock does not want to show affection publicly and he hopes Jim understands. He wants him to understand. Jim looks at him hard once and then casts his eyes down before getting in the driver’s seat. Spock sits in the front seat and they pilot the car out of the snow covered drive.
“I need to buy flowers,” Jim says and drives them to a convenience store.
“May I come in in?” Spock asks.
“Be my guest,” is his answer as Jim leaves the vehicle.
“Are you upset with me?” Spock asks as Jim picks four small bouquets and moves to the (thankfully) automated checkout.
“No,” he says with genuine confusion, “Why? Did I say something? I’m just...it’s been a rough day, okay? I’m sorry I came across that way. I’m not mad.” The flowers are tied together so they resemble a multi-colored single boquet.
“I harbor significant regard toward you.” Spock says, with some difficulty. He wants Jim to understand that he is sorry. Emotions were never his forte. Jim smiles at him and takes one red flower out and presents it to Spock.
“Quite pretty,” he says, putting it in his breast pocket.
Jim leans in and kisses him quickly in the cold Iowa air.
He presents “Lady Nyota” with a lily, and Bones with another rose and they drive toward the cemetery.
There’s less snow here and Jim says it’s because this whole place is protected by massive branchy trees that shade the entire plot. Jim finds his mother's grave and sets down the bouquet.
“Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you. Sorry stuff was shitty for so long.” He adds the last part very quickly and says a prayer that Spock has never heard but McCoy and Uhura both echo his ‘Amen’.
Jim grows very quiet for a moment and Spock follows his eyes to a man walking toward them in a long coat.
“Jim?” he asks.
“Go wait in the car,” he says.
“All of you, go wait in the car. Now.”
“Who is that?” McCoy asks.
“He’s my stepdad. Frank.”
“So?” Uhura asks.
“So help me God, if you don’t go wait in the goddamn car I’ll court martial the lot of you.” His eyes are on fire in a way Spock has never seen, and judges that the others haven’t either by the way they turn and walk away, looking back at the two of them the whole time.
“Spock-- dismissed.” The figure is much closer now, but Spock makes no move to leave.
“Did this man hurt you?” he asks quietly.
“He hurt all of us...” Please don’t take my sunshine away ...
Spock grabs Jim’s hand fiercely. “Cast out fear, Jim.” Through the skin to skin contact Spock feels Jim’s fear and fight-or-flight response. His anger.
The first thing Jim notices about Frank is that he’s much older. He’s hunched like a cane, with thinning hair and bloodshot eyes, and Jim is positive he could take him.
“Make no move against him,” he whispers to Spock, “Let me handle it.”
Frank stops much closer to them than an average person would.
“Captain,” he says thickly.
“Merry Christmas, Frank,” Jim says hollowly.
“Who’sis?” He gestures to Spock with one hand and Jim’s pretty sure he’s drunk.
“My First Officer.”
Frank looks at their hands and an evil grin spreads across his face.
“You pest. Always knew there was something wrong with you.”
“Watch it, old man,” Kirk says. He lets go of Spock’s hand. “We’re just here to see Mom.”
“Winona,” he slurs, like she was the most beautiful thing in the galaxy. And after she’s gone too, he was too late to love her like that.
“Winona, baby…” he looks at the gravemarker, then up at Jim, “You asshole,” he says quietly, “You asshole , she left, then your brother left, then you, then you took my house away. I’m alone, Jimmy. I’m all alone now and it’s your fault.” Frank looks so sad in that moment, so much different than Jim has ever seen him. He reaches one hand out to him, a truce. Frank grabs it, but instead of shaking it, he pulls Jim face first into the snow. He sighs and stands up. Spock looks at him, eyebrows raised, asking for permission. Jim shakes his head no.
“All you did was use my mother and beat my brother and I.” This time he offers no truce, just hooks him behind one knee and brings him down on his back. Now, he is angry. He is done.
He leans down close to his face, “If you ever talk to me like that, try and hurt me again, I’ll shoot your body into space and watch you burn, freeze, rot and break apart at the same time, and I’ve seen that. It takes a while. Get out of here” He stands and so does Frank. Frank leaves at a slow walk, looking back and scowling, but leaving.
“Doesn’t it feel good to put things behind you, Mr. Spock?”
“Yes, Jim, I believe it does.” They link hands again and walk back to the car.
“What in the Sam-hell did I just see?” McCoy demands when they get in.
“Only a Christmas miracle,” Jim says quietly. “Now, who wants to get some non replicated food before we go to the airport? I’m thinking pizza. Have you ever had pizza, Mr. Spock?”