Angels: Home For Christmas by arkietrekker
Summary:

It's a Wonderful Life meets TOS: Two years after V'ger, the Enterprise crew--including Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Christine Chapel--get the chance to spenf Christmas leave on Earth with their families.  After being rejected by his Human relatives, Spock and Amanda accept an invitation to join Kirk and Christine in Iowa, where they're sharing an old-fashioned Christmas with Kirk's mother; Spock arrives feeling depressed and isolated, but when he gets lost in a blizzard, a vision of an angel shows him how fortunate he really is.


Categories: Fiction Characters: Amanda, Chapel, Original Character(s)
Crossover Fandom: None
Genres: Kirk-Spock Friendship
Other Languages: None
Specific movie: None
Story Type: Angst, Character Study, Hurt/Comfort
Trope (OPTIONAL): None
Universe: ST:TOS Original Universe
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 50426 Read: 9234 Published: 12/24/2009 Updated: 12/24/2009
Story Notes:

As with all my other Christmas stories, this one is based on my own bacjground experiences, and yes, it does contain religious references.  Christmas has always been A Big Deal in my family--we decorated the entire house, Christmas carols playing in the background, and part of the tradition was that we made some of our own tree ornaments; my father and I made them from kits, but my mother made them with the individual components, from scratch, using metal ornaments as a foundation. We always kept every ornament made and set great store by them.  I inherited them all when my mother died, and I hang them every year, in addition to newer from-scratch ornaments that I'de made myself over the years since.

It looks like this is the last one I'm going to get posted in time for Christmas, so I hope you all enjoy it.  It's less "heavy" than the last one, but still angsty with lots of h/c for those who like that.  K&S ARE the main characters, but Spock's romantic relationship in my stories is with Christine Chapel, so there are elements of that here, as well.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my fellow Kirk-(whatever)-Spock fans who read this. This is your present. *g*

1. Complete story by arkietrekker

Complete story by arkietrekker

ANGELS: HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

 

By Gamin Davis

 

 

 

Two years after the V'ger mission, the Enterprise was en route back to Starfleet Central Headquarters for a rare Christmas on Earth, and the crew were all excitedly making plans for a four-week holiday leave.  Most were planning to go home and spend it with their families; Kirk, too, had been invited back home to spend it with his mother—his only living relative now, except for his nephew, Peter, who apparently wasn't going to be able to come—along with anyone else Kirk wanted to bring with him.

 

Intending to invite Spock and McCoy, Kirk had asked them to meet him in the Officers' Lounge so he could discuss it with them, and that was where he was now—standing before a viewport, looking out at the stars and waiting.  Spock's watch, he knew, had just ended, and he would pick up McCoy on his way to the Lounge.  When they finally arrived, Kirk was still looking out at the stars.  He turned around at the sound of McCoy's voice: "What's this all about, Jim?  I was just about to start packing."

 

"You're here because I need to talk to both of you," Kirk told him, as he and Spock approached.  "I'm going back to Iowa to visit my mother for Christmas, and she's expecting me to bring some friends with me, so...if neither of you already have plans...I was hoping you'd come with me."

 

Spock and McCoy looked at each other in differing degrees of surprise before returning their attention to Kirk, Spock with an eyebrow still raised.  "Well, I hate to turn you down, but I've promised to be at a big family reunion back home in Georgia," McCoy responded apologetically.  "I can't afford to miss it—I’ve found out there's a chance Joanna might show up, and you know how long it's been since I saw my daughter.  Been planning it ever since I found out we were going to spend Christmas on Earth."

 

Kirk nodded reluctantly; he had only received the stargram with the surprise invitation from his mother last week.  "All right, Bones...I wouldn't want you to miss that chance," he acceded understandingly, if disappointedly.  He did not mention that he had already been turned down by Uhura and Janice Rand.  There had never been much of a chance that Janice would accept, since their relationship had largely disintegrated by the time Kirk had been promoted to the Admiralty—but he had really hoped that Uhura would agree to join him.  Unfortunately, she, too, had bowed out, and for the same reasons everybody else seemed to have: previously-arranged visits with relatives.

 

"Why would your mother want a bunch of strangers in her house over Christmas, anyway?" McCoy asked, then.

 

"You and Spock aren't strangers.  I talk about you all the time when I write to her," Kirk returned sincerely, striving to hide his remaining disappointment.  "She's a widow living alone in a big farmhouse—I’m sure she just wants the extra company."

 

"Oh."  McCoy looked at the deck, feeling embarrassed.  "We'll be on leave for four weeks. Maybe I can come up later; I'm sure our family reunion won't last that long.  I'll let you know, Jim." He sighed, looking up finally.  "In the mean time, I better go finish packing.  We'll reach Earth in a couple of days."

 

Kirk paid no attention as McCoy turned to leave.  His eyes were on Spock, though he had little hope that the Vulcan would accept, either—Spock had always refused Kirk's invitations to meet his family.  "Well?  What's your excuse?" he prompted finally, anticipation of rejection making his voice turn bitter.

 

"Under other circumstances, Captain, I would be gratified to accept your invitation, but I am already expected at my aunt's house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Mother is meeting me there, and we are to spend Christmas with my aunt, my cousin, and an unspecified number of Mother's other relatives—so I am afraid that I, too, must decline," Spock replied carefully.

 

Visibly crestfallen, Kirk turned away with a dejected sigh and went back to his seat by the viewport, now ignoring Spock.

 

After a brief hesitation, Spock went to join him.  "As a matter of fact, there was something I wanted to ask you," he added slowly.  "May I sit down?"

 

Kirk shrugged noncommittally, still keeping his eyes on the viewport.  “Fine with me."

 

Spock sat down next to him on the bench seat.  "This is not something I want to do, Jim; the only members of my mother's family whom I have ever met are my Aunt Elizabeth and cousin Jonathan—I will know no one else there, and I have no idea how I will be received," he told Kirk reluctantly.  "I only know that most of the others openly disapproved of Mother's marriage to Sarek, and if she had not been so...desperate...to have me meet them, I would never have agreed to go."

 

"Jonathan—that’s the cousin you told me about who looks like me, right?" Kirk recalled.

 

"Yes.  I would like you to meet him."

 

Kirk turned to him finally and stared at him in surprise.  "What?"

 

"I made my attendance conditional on two things: first, that I be able to leave whenever I wish, and second, that I be allowed to bring you with me," Spock elaborated, meeting Kirk's eyes uncertainly.  "That is what I wished to ask you.  Will you come with me?"

 

Kirk knew that it would probably never have occurred to Spock to invite him to participate in such a private family occasion before his mind-meld with V'ger, and he hated to discourage his friend by refusing—but this time, he had no choice.  "Spock...I appreciate your wanting to include me, but I can't, really.  I'd go ordinarily, but Mom's expecting me to come home as soon as we get back to Earth," he declined regretfully.

 

"It is that important?"

 

Kirk nodded.  "She's nearly ninety, and she's been sick for most of the last few years.  I only saw her once while I was on the Admiralty, and I want to spend as much time with her over Christmas as possible, because...I don't know if she'll still be alive next Christmas," he explained reluctantly.

 

"That is...most understandable."  Now it was Spock's turn to avert his eyes in disappointment as he realized he would much rather spend Christmas with Jim than with relatives he had seen seldom before or not at all.  "If only I had not promised Mother..."

 

Kirk managed a weak smile as he studied the profile of Spock's face.  "Maybe you can get away early, too," he suggested, though he had no more faith in that possibility than in the possibility of McCoy leaving early—at least, not in time to join him by Christmas.

 

"I will try," Spock promised earnestly.

 

"Great.   Two definite maybes," Kirk concluded sarcastically, turning away again just as Spock turned back toward him.

 

"Is it so vital that someone else be with you, Jim?" Spock questioned, concerned and puzzled by Kirk's apparent difficulty in accepting his friend's refusal of his invitation.

 

"I don't guess so," Kirk admitted resignedly.  "It's just that I don't know if Mom'll even be ambulatory.  I'm likely to be spending a lot of time by myself if she's still bedridden."

 

"I see."  Spock considered this for a time.  "Hmm.  I asked Dr. McCoy if he knew how Christine planned to spend her leave, and he said she had no plans—no family to spend Christmas with.  Perhaps she would go with you," he suggested.

 

"Don't you think she'd rather go with you and be with your family over Christmas?" Kirk countered doubtfully.

 

"I...considered inviting her, but...as long as we are not bonded yet, anyway, I really...would rather you come," Spock admitted softly, lowering his eyes.  "Perhaps...she could go with you, and I would do my best to join you later.  I do not think she would refuse, under those circumstances. Besides—if your mother is ill, would it not be advantageous to have a doctor there?"

 

"Yes..." Kirk recalled how he and Christine had become fast friends during the time that he had been on the Admiralty and she had been studying for her M.D., interning at the Base Hospital at Starfleet Command Central in San Francisco.  Naturally, there hadn't been any romantic involvement, since she wasn't really Kirk's type, anyway, but their shared affection for and memories of Spock had drawn them closer together than Kirk would ever have thought possible.

 

And—only partially because he knew that Spock was already emotionally committed to her (and she very obviously to him)—Kirk had found himself truly content to be "just friends" with her, as he probably would not have been if either of them had ever harbored any romantic feelings for

 

the other.  But whether or not she would want to spend Christmas with him—particularly now, when they were not so dependent on each other for companionship and support—seemed open to debate.  "...but, Spock, if you don't show up, she's likely to get awfully bored with nobody but me

 

around," Kirk finished, at length.

 

Spock lowered his eyes again, studying his folded hands as they rested in his lap.  "Mother once told me that it is important for one not to be alone on Christmas," he recalled faintly.  "It took me many years to recognize the truth of such an emotional and superficially illogical statement, but

 

I have finally come to understand and agree with it.  Christine has nowhere to go, and you have admitted a need for companionship; would she not find it more pleasant to go with you than to spend her leave here?  Dr. McCoy will be gone.  Uhura will be gone.  From what the Doctor says, she has no one else who is emotionally close enough to consider spending Christmas with.  She would be alone.  I am too familiar with the emotion of loneliness to wish it on either of you... especially during this holiday."

 

Kirk gave in finally.  "I suppose you're right; nobody else wants to be with either of us, so we're essentially all we have," he concluded dismally, despite knowing that that was not what Spock had meant to imply, getting up to go.  "I just hope she doesn't turn me down, too."

 

Spock stood, also.  "Do you wish me to go with you?" he asked.

 

"Couldn't hurt," Kirk assented.

 

They walked across the Lounge to the door in silence, then Spock spoke one last time before they left.  "Jim—please understand this—I do want to be with you on Christmas.  If I can possibly leave my aunt's house before then, I will... and I will have added incentive if you and Christine both are waiting for me in Iowa.  In the mean time, you and I both have promises to keep to our mothers."

 

Kirk nodded finally in acceptance of this as their eyes met.  "All right, let's go talk to Christine."

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

If Christine felt insulted by being Kirk's choice of last resort for Christmas companionship, she gave no evidence of it when he and Spock met with her in Sickbay a few minutes later.  It was actually Spock who introduced the idea to her and then tactfully stepped aside to let her discuss it directly with Kirk.  "Was this your idea?" she asked Kirk warily.

 

"No, it was Spock's," he responded honestly.  "But I haven't had any better offers, and if you haven't, either, maybe we'd be doing each other a favor.  As Spock just reminded me, it's no fun being alone on Christmas."

 

"True."  Christine glanced over at Spock as she considered his initial explanation of the situation.  "You're not going with him?"

 

"Unfortunately, I have already agreed to attend a Christmas celebration with Mother's family first; I intend to join the Captain later...but I am not yet certain when," Spock reiterated.  "Christine

 

... you would be 'doing me a favor', also...by looking after Jim for me and keeping him company until I can get there."

 

"Well, when you put it that way, I can't very well refuse," Christine acceded finally, returning her attention to Kirk.  "I guess you've got a house-mate, Captain.  Are you sure there'll be enough room?"

 

Kirk nodded.  "My brother and I each had our own room, plus there's a guest room, so that won't be a problem."

 

"If your mother's still confined to bed, will she have a Christmas tree?"

 

"She'll probably want me to pick one out.  My brother and I started doing that after my father died."

 

"A real tree?  God, I haven't seen a real Christmas tree since before I joined Starfleet."

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Spock left them alone to discuss their leave plans, returning to his quarters to begin packing for his own holiday leave.  He still wished Kirk could go with him, despite his underlying awareness that wishing for the impossible was illogical, and despite knowing that he would be with Kirk soon enough.  He had never been entirely comfortable celebrating Christmas, even when he was sure he and Kirk were going to be together for the whole holiday, and he suspected that spending it among relatives who probably did not even want to see him would turn out to be more of a trial than a celebration.  He could only hope his mother knew something he didn't about a possible change in her family's attitude toward her marriage to Sarek—surely she would not expect her son to spend Christmas among them, otherwise!

 

Spock had decided that involving Christine in this uncertain situation would only make it worse, particularly when they learned that she was his intended future bond-mate—for surely that information would come out eventually; if they disapproved of his mother marrying a Vulcan, it was likely they would react similarly to the possibility of Christine doing the same thing.  It would not be fair to subject her to that, even though Spock was certain that Jonathan and Aunt Elizabeth would welcome her as his mother would.  Kirk seemed more likely to be accepted, if only because he would not be seen as trying to join the family.

 

I am so tired of trying to please relatives who cannot accept me as I am—first Sarek's, now Mother's, Spock told himself, sighing as he opened up his travel bag and set it on his bed, then headed for his dresser.  If I must spend Christmas with them, I must also hope that they will at least be civil to me.  He reached the dresser and quickly called to mind the contents of each drawer, reaching for the appropriate one.  Pennsylvania...Iowa...in December.  Snow.  I will need sweaters...

 

As he began to pull out heavy sweaters and other items of clothing, his thoughts involuntarily shifted from his family back to Kirk.  Most of the Terran cold-weather clothing he now possessed had been "homecoming" presents from his Captain, given to him during their first shared leave after the V'ger mission—even the bag he was now packing was a gift from Kirk—and he had been determined ever since then that his birthday and Christmas presents to Kirk would be just as appreciated.  This year's present for Kirk now sat at the head of his bed, along with two others—one for Christine and one for McCoy—all wrapped and ready to be packed (though Spock was still uncertain if he would see the Doctor before their leaves ended).

 

Carefully, he refolded each item of clothing before placing it in the bag, lingering fondly on the memories each brought forth in him of Kirk's generosity and the incredible lengths to which he had gone to be sure his Vulcan friend felt welcomed back and wanted after his devastating failure to attain Kolinahr.  Spock still felt honored to have a friend who could find it within himself to care so deeply for him after his abandonment and betrayal; to have more than one such friend seemed beyond the realm of possibility—yet he had three.  Surely having to deal with a few misguided relatives for a couple of weeks was nothing beside that knowledge.

 

And Spock would welcome the chance to see his mother again.  Resigned to his fate, he continued packing, putting the presents in last, and then moving the still-open bag to an out-of-the-way spot.  All that remained to go into the bag were toiletry items, which he would not pack until he was ready to leave the ship.

 

Spock surveyed the contents of his bag one last time to make sure he had not accidentally packed any of his Vulcan clothing, something he generally preferred not to do when preparing for extended leave on Earth—especially now that he had such a large collection of Earth-style clothing—because it alienated him more than necessary from his surroundings, and his own physical appearance was alienating enough.  Especially in cities and towns with no Starfleet facilities nearby, such as the one nearest Kirk's family farm.

 

Finally satisfied, he turned his attention to finishing up some work he had not completed on the Bridge, deciding later to contact Kirk and see if his Captain wanted to join him for dinner.  He was curious to learn what Kirk and Christine would be doing while he was with his mother's family –and whether or not Christine had been able to muster any more enthusiasm for the prospect of spending Christmas with Kirk than she'd shown before Spock had left Sickbay.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Two days later, the Enterprise had reached Earth and was berthed in the orbital spacedock. Kirk had contacted his mother, telling her to expect him and Christine, and they were saying goodbye to Spock and McCoy at Starfleet Command Central's main shuttleport, since they all had to catch different shuttles.  Despite the fact that he and Christine were by now reconciled to their decision to spend Christmas together, Kirk still found himself moping as they walked down the shuttleport's main aisle toward the departure gate for McCoy's shuttle, which was due to leave first. "First time we get Christmas leave on Earth since I got the Enterprise back, and we can't spend it together," Kirk muttered morosely.

 

McCoy sighed in exasperation.  "Don't make this any harder than it already is, Jim.  You knew all along that we were all going home to see our families."

 

"I trust you will find your 'family reunion' more pleasant than I am likely to find mine," Spock interjected, sounding almost as depressed as Kirk.

 

"Silly me, I thought we were family," Kirk retorted sarcastically, appearing to ignore Spock, though in reality he was all too aware of the Vulcan's conviction that he had no choice in visiting his mother's relatives for the holiday.

 

McCoy rolled his eyes impatiently while Spock pretended to be interested in the floor tile. "Come on, Jim, drop it," McCoy admonished finally.  "This is my gate coming up.  Are you going to keep complaining right up ‘til I'm on the shuttle, or are you going to wish me a Merry Christmas?"

 

"Sorry, Bones—you’re right," Kirk apologized ruefully.  "Say hello to your family for me.  Merry Christmas.  Oh, I almost forgot..." Quickly, Kirk dug a piece of paper out of his coat pocket and handed it to McCoy.  "This is my comm code number while I'm at my mother's house.  If you decide to come, call me."

 

McCoy nodded, turning toward the big window overlooking the shuttle landing pad.  "That's my shuttle coming in now," he told Kirk at last, starting for the door.  "I'll try to make it up there, but no promises.  Merry Christmas, you two—same to you, Spock.  I'll see you as soon as I can."

 

The other three lingered until the shuttle was ready to board and McCoy stepped through the door, then Kirk and Christine accompanied Spock to the departure gate for his shuttle.  "I still have some twenty minutes before my shuttle arrives—I was told it is late," Spock informed them.

 

"While we're waiting, I'd better go ahead and give you this," Kirk decided, handing Spock another piece of paper.  "Here—my comm code number.  You call me as soon as you're ready to come to Iowa."

 

"I will, Jim," Spock promised, kneeling to tuck the piece of paper into his bag.  He hesitated before closing the bag, noting the presents still sitting on top of the clothes and taking them out.  "I think perhaps I should give you your gifts to take with you," he added, handing one each to Kirk and Christine.  "But you must promise not to unwrap them until I get there."

 

"We won't," Kirk assured him, noting the one remaining present in Spock's hand.  "Who's that one for?"

 

"Dr. McCoy—I did not have time to give it to him before he left," Spock revealed uncertainly. "Should I just keep it for him, or—?”

 

"Give it to me, and we'll put it under the tree with the others," Kirk instructed, reaching for the present as Spock passed it to him.  "I'm still hoping he'll come up by Christmas."

 

As Kirk knelt to put the gifts from Spock into his bag, Spock picked up a large item sitting next to his own bag and offered it to Kirk as the latter stood up again.  "I would also appreciate it if you and Christine would take care of my Vulcan harp while I am with Mother's family," he requested, then.  "I am...not certain...that they would appreciate it as you do."

 

Kirk was startled, but no thought of objecting entered his mind as he took the harp carefully from Spock and tucked it under his arm.  "All right, sure, I'd be glad to," he agreed, feeling honored. As far as he knew, Spock had never let the harp out of his sight, entrusting it to no one for any length of time; even Uhura had found it necessary to buy her own, for Spock always required her to return his immediately after borrowing it and always tried to be present during its use so he could be sure that nothing happened to it.  Now he was allowing Kirk to keep it in his absence for a period of possibly weeks.  "It'll be as safe as in your own quarters on the ship," the Captain promised.

 

"I know."  Spock glanced toward the window, verifying that his shuttle still had not arrived, and there followed an awkward silence as he turned back to Kirk and tried to decide what more to say to him.  There was much he wanted to say—most of it falling into the category of pointless, illogical emotionalism.

 

"We have to get to our gate, Spock.  Our shuttle should be here any minute," Kirk pointed out finally.

 

Spock nodded in acknowledgement.

 

"If we don't see you before Christmas Eve, you have a Merry Christmas."

 

Spock could not meet his friend's eyes as he responded.  "The same to you and Christine," he replied faintly, as his Human half cried out with need and longing to go with them instead of heading off alone on a different shuttle to see relatives he did not want to see.  As they were about to turn to go, Spock suddenly stepped closer, reached to place one hand on Kirk's face and the other on Christine's face, fingers touching their cheeks in position for a shallow meld—a brief mental farewell.  Then his mind spoke within theirs, using not only his special Vulcan term of endearment for Kirk, but also the one for Christine—the term used only between bond-mates (or bond-mates-to-be) that meant "my chosen":  Jim, t'hy'la...Christine, m'chejan...my heart and thoughts will be with you.

 

No sooner had Spock's mind withdrawn from theirs and his hands dropped than he found Kirk and Christine each slipping an arm around him for a brief hug.  Christine even ventured a light kiss on the top of his bowed head.  "We love you, Spock.  Always remember that," she told him gently.  Then they released him and turned to go.  Spock was reluctant to let them go, but he knew he had no choice; he watched them head down to their own departure gate, following at a distance, then, minutes later, watched them board their shuttle.  When Kirk, obviously anticipating this, turned back one last time to wave at him before ducking through the shuttle door, Spock returned the gesture, despite doubting Kirk could really see it from his distance.

 

Finally, he went back to his own shuttle's departure gate to wait for it to arrive, still dissatisfied, but resigned and—for the time being—at peace.  His mother should already be waiting for him in Philadelphia; perhaps she would even be the one to meet him at the shuttleport. Perhaps his stay with her family would be tolerable, after all.  With the warmth of Kirk's and Christine's emotions for him still lingering in his mind, Spock found it possible to hope.

 

 

 

II

 

 

 

Freezing rain was turning to sleet and there was already a light dusting of snow on the ground when Spock's shuttle arrived in Philadelphia.  There was no one to meet him at his assigned gate, so he sat down in the reception area to wait, reasoning that whoever was coming might have been running late or gotten the wrong arrival time.  An hour later, with the reception area now empty, except for him, Spock was still waiting.  As he was trying to decide how he could best get to his aunt's house without knowing her address, Amanda—who had been hunting through the shuttleport for him—finally spotted him from further down the main hallway, sitting by himself at the outer edge of the reception area, looking cold and abandoned.

 

Relieved, Amanda hurried toward him, almost running down the hallway, until she was standing before him, though Spock was too preoccupied to notice her immediately.  "Spock—there  you are!  I'm sorry I'm so late.  They had some computer problem and transposed your shuttle's arrival time with another shuttle's—I’ve been waiting for you at the wrong gate," she explained apologetically.

 

Spock's head had snapped upright at the sound of her voice, and he stood slowly.  "Mother," he greeted her somberly, allowing her a brief embrace.  

 

Amanda studied him worriedly as they parted.  "Spock, what is it?  I thought Captain Kirk would be with you."

 

"So did I.  But he was due at his mother's home immediately.  She is in poor health, and Jim did not want to take the chance of missing Christmas with her," Spock told her, lowering his eyes uneasily.  "I declined an invitation to spend the holiday with him to be here, Mother.  I trust that you appreciate the fact that I have come only at your insistence."

 

"I do, but hopefully, it'll be worth it," Amanda returned understandingly.  "I thought it was time you met the rest of my family.  They're just as much your family as any of your Vulcan relatives. And don't worry—I’ve already told Elizabeth and Jonathan that you might not stay very long."

 

Spock nodded acknowledgement.  "Who else is there?"

 

"Let's see...my younger sister, Annabelle...her husband, their two sons and daughters-in-law, and her four grand-children—two boys and two girls.  Oh, and Jonathan's little girl."

 

"Jonathan has a daughter?" Spock repeated incredulously, looking up at her.  "He is married?"

 

"Was.  His wife was...killed.  But I'll let him tell you about that himself," Amanda answered evasively.  "I think the little girl's about eight."

 

Spock fell silent, considering this as he followed Amanda back through the shuttleport and outside to her aircar—Elizabeth’s, actually, though Amanda had borrowed it.  Then it was time for the trip back to Elizabeth's house.  Spock had forgotten how far it was from the shuttleport.  It began to snow in earnest shortly after they left, and Spock, suddenly feeling cold, checked to see that his coat was fastened all the way up.  They occupied themselves for the rest of the trip with small talk, Spock responding only in a limited and monosyllabic way, until Amanda realized her son's mind was too preoccupied with something else to devote much attention to their discussion.

 

"What's on your mind, Spock?  Are you worried about how Annabelle's family is going to treat you?" she asked finally.

 

Spock kept his eyes on the window before him as he answered.  "I try to bear in mind that it does not matter because I will only be here a short time.  But the idea that I might somehow manage to...gain the approval of your entire family does hold a certain attraction that I cannot deny...perhaps because I know I could never hope to gain such approval by Sarek's clan on Vulcan.  Still, it seems unlikely."  He turned slowly to look at her.  "You must tell me—have they already determined to disapprove of me, or are they open to persuasion?"

 

Amanda shook her head uncertainly.  "To tell you the truth, the only one I've talked to at any length so far is Annabelle—and from what I can see, she's as bull-headed as ever about my marriage and anything connected with Vulcan," she revealed.  "I suppose it depends on how much value her family places on her opinions.  But at least we have Elizabeth and Jonathan on our side; if they weren't going to be here, I wouldn't have bothered to come—or to ask you to come."

 

At last, they pulled up to the house.  Spock still remembered it from his one childhood visit—an old-fashioned, two-storey brick and stone building with a big front yard surrounded by a white picket fence.  He was still taking it all in when Amanda pulled the aircar to a stop in the driveway. They both got out, Spock grabbed his bag, he went around the front of the car to join Amanda... and found himself staring at her apprehensively.  "On Vulcan, it never mattered what I said or did...I was never Vulcan enough for my clan or my people," he recalled softly.  "Now I am... concerned...that I may never be Human enough for your family."

 

"You don't have to be 'Human', Spock. Just be...you," Amanda counselled kindly.

 

Spock lowered his eyes again, certain somehow that "being himself" would not be the wisest –or most logical—course of action when he was about to be surrounded by people who did not want to be reminded that his father was Vulcan.  "I did not even bring any Vulcan clothing.  It seemed inappropriate," he revealed, with only the slightest apparent relevance to their present topic of discussion, unfastening his coat enough for her to see the clothing beneath as he lifted his head again and his eyes searched hers.  "Do I look presentable?"

 

Amanda nodded, reaching to touch the velvety material of the thick, blue sweater.  "This is part of the clothing that Captain Kirk gave you, isn't it?"

 

"Yes."  Spock cocked his head thoughtfully, studying some point in the sky.  "Whenever we were on a planet where my appearance was going to cause a problem, he would have me wear some kind of cap or hat to cover my ears and eyebrows when we were not alone," he reflected, rather morosely.  "I never thought I would wish to do that among my own relatives."

 

Amanda returned his gaze understandingly, reaching to briefly push back the hood of his coat.  "Well, just remember, he's not the only one who loves your ears and eyebrows because they're a part of you," she responded, studying her son's Vulcan features fondly for a moment before pulling the hood back up and tying it securely again.  "Come on, Elizabeth and Jonathan are waiting."

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

At almost the same moment, outside the tiny town of Riverside, Iowa, Kirk and Christine had just arrived at the house on the Kirk farm.  Not wanting his mother to have to go out and expose herself to the cold by meeting them at the shuttleport, Kirk had decided to rent an aircar for the duration of their visit, so they were able to immediately pick it up and drive to Kirk’s family home.  

 

They each got out their own bag, then Kirk carefully removed Spock's Vulcan harp, having rested it between his legs and against the front edge of the seat (not wanting it to get knocked around during the trip from the shuttleport), before leading Christine around to the front of the house.  Someone, obviously expecting them, had shovelled the sidewalks so they would not have to walk through the snow.  While Kirk was still wondering who his mother had gotten to do that, Christine spoke: "So this is where you grew up.  Pretty big farm."

 

Kirk looked around as they moved toward the sidewalk, shrugging slightly.  "About five acres. Used to be bigger, but Mom sold off portions of it as it got harder for her to take care of.  But you're half-right—it’s pretty.  It always was," he returned quietly, pointing off toward the open stretch of land behind the house.  "Way back toward the edge of the property, we have a strip of forest land bordering a stream.  Used to grow corn out there until her health got bad."

 

"Sounds lovely," Christine acknowledged.

 

Finally, they turned their attention to the big, wooden house before them, a two-storey structure painted forest green with gold trim, with a wraparound porch and balcony, and climbed the steps to the porch.  "Last time I was here, Mom had a maid helping her around the house—I  think her name was Madeline," Kirk recalled.  "I guess she'll answer the door, if she hasn't already left for the holidays."  He rang the doorbell.

 

A few seconds later, he heard a muffled "Just a minute"—then, a couple of minutes later, the door opened to reveal a dark-haired woman who appeared to be about Kirk's age.  "Jim!  Oh, you're here!  Wonderful!" she exclaimed, quickly grabbing their bags and moving back out of the way.  "Come in, come in!" she urged.

 

Insuring that he retained Spock's harp, Kirk complied, and Christine followed his lead. “Thanks, Madeline.  How's Mom?" he asked, as soon as they were inside and the door was closed.

 

"She's had me cooking for a week—all your favorites, including some she insisted on preparing herself."  Madeline paused abruptly at Kirk's look of surprise.  "Oh, that's right—she was still confined to bed the last time you were here.  She's got an airchair, now.  Kind of slow getting up, but once she is, she doesn't stick around in one place too long.  Give me your coats, now, and I'll hang them up."

 

Kirk and Christine quickly obeyed, Kirk shifting the weight of the Vulcan harp from arm to arm as he struggled out of his coat, not wanting to set the instrument down until it was settled into a safe place in his room.

 

Madeline took the coats and moved off down the entryway to the main closet.  "When are you leaving for your Christmas vacation?" Kirk asked conversationally.

 

"Anxious to get rid of me?" she counter-questioned lightly, opening the closet door.

 

Kirk blushed slightly as he realized the awkwardness of his question.  "Uh—no.  I just thought...you'd be off celebrating the holiday with your family by now," he stammered ruefully.

 

"Your mother asked me to stick around 'til you got here, with all the preparations that had to be made," Madeline returned understandingly, hanging up the last of the two coats and heading back toward them.  "I'll be leaving in the morning.  In the mean time...you know where the extra rooms are, so go ahead and take your bags upstairs.  They're both ready for you."  Suddenly, it was Madeline's turn to look uncomfortable as she tried much too hard to ignore Christine.  "We... didn't know how many rooms you'd need, so those two are ready, plus the guest room, too.  Are you and your—girl-friend—going  to share a room?"

 

Christine looked indignant, but Kirk covered for her before she could say anything.  "Dr. Chapel is not my 'girl-friend'—just a friend from the Enterprise who didn't have anywhere else to go for Christmas," he informed the maid coolly.  "She also happens to be my Assistant Chief Medical Officer."

 

"Oh."  Madeline wasn't convinced, but she decided it wasn't her place to inquire further.  "So you'll be using both rooms, then."

 

"Yes—and probably the guest room.  I'm expecting someone else later."

 

Another girl-friend, no doubt.  The stories we hear about him must be true, Madeline thought critically.  "Well, go on upstairs, and I'll go find your mother," she concluded, turning to go.

 

"Come on, Christine," Kirk urged, leading her to the stairs and then up them; she followed silently.  When they were upstairs, Kirk went first to the room that had been his, throwing his travel bag onto the bed and placing the Vulcan harp in a corner behind the bed, then led Christine next door to what would be her room.  "This was my brother Sam's room—you’ll be staying here," Kirk told her hesitantly.  "I'm afraid we'll have to share the bathroom, at least for the time being.  If that bothers you, you can move downstairs to the guest room once Spock gets here—you’d be sharing a bathroom with Mom, then.  Unless you'd rather stay there from the outset."

 

Christine shook her head.  "For the time being, I think I'd rather...have somebody I know to talk to without climbing up and down the stairs," she decided, carrying her bag over to the bed.

 

Kirk nodded acknowledgement.  "I think the dresser drawers are all empty.  You can put your clothes there."

 

"Thank you, Captain," she replied, opening her bag and beginning to take out her clothes.

 

Kirk considered carefully for a time before speaking again.  "Look, I don't know how you'll feel about this, but I'd be a lot more comfortable with us spending Christmas together if you'd call me 'Jim'," he ventured hesitantly.

 

Christine carried some clothes to the dresser, keeping her eyes averted.  "Don't you think we're going to have enough problems as it is keeping your mother from jumping to conclusions about our relationship?" she questioned.  "You saw how the maid acted."

 

"Don't worry about Madeline.  Mom says she's a professional busybody, but she's harmless. Besides, somehow I have a feeling that your reaction to Spock's presence will put any confusion on that point to rest," Kirk returned dryly.

 

"Hopefully.  But we tried having me call you 'Jim' for a while when you were on the Admiralty," Christine reminded him.  "You know how it turned out then."

 

"I know you stopped after a couple of weeks and never did it again," Kirk recalled, sighing.  "I guess with Spock totally out of reach, you had a little more incentive to try it.  Now, with the knowledge that he'll probably be here in a few days, you're just...biding your time, trying not to enjoy anything or anyone too much until he gets here," he realized.

 

"And you aren't?" Christine challenged, heading back to the bed to get more clothes out of her bag.

 

"Of course, I am—but I'm trying not to be so obvious about it," Kirk chided her cautiously. "When I was on the Admiralty, we were both resigned to losing Spock and looking for someone to hold onto who would understand that loss.  Now that that need is gone...well, neither of us can be Spock for the other."

 

Christine nodded understandingly as she paused before her bag.  "Actually, I was about to ask you to call me 'Dr. Chapel' while we’re here," she admitted slowly.

 

Kirk decided it wasn't worth arguing about.  "All right, fine, if that's what you want," he gave in, finally.  Hopefully, she would relax enough to drop the formality after they were settled in and she was used to the place.  "Come on back down now so I can introduce you to my mother; you can finish unpacking later."

 

Christine followed him back downstairs.  Waiting for them in the entryway was an elderly woman with Kirk's hazel eyes and hair of a sandy-brown salt-and-pepper color, sitting in an airchair.  Her eyes and face spoke of an intelligence and wit undimmed by the passing years as she held her arms out to Kirk.  "Jimmy!  Madeline told me you were here—come give your mother a hug!"

 

Kirk was already running toward her and now threw his arms around her as he reached her side.  "Mom—it’s so good to see you out of bed," he told her feelingly.  "You look great.  I was just taking our bags up to our rooms."

 

She released Kirk finally, noticing Christine for the first time.  "Now, who is this, Jim?" she asked curiously.

 

"Mom, this is my Assistant Chief Medical Officer, Christine Chapel.  Dr. Chapel, this is my mother, Anna Marie Kirk."

 

As Christine took a few steps forward, Kirk's mother studied her intently.  "Come closer, child, so I can get a good look at you," she encouraged.

 

Christine moved slowly closer until she was standing before the older woman, next to Kirk.

 

"My goodness...aren't you a bit young for my Jimmy?" she asked, still studying Christine's face.

 

Christine fought to keep from appearing flustered as she responded.  "I'm here as a friend, Mrs. Kirk.  Your son was kind enough to invite me to spend Christmas with him when he found out I had nowhere to go, and I accepted."

 

Mercifully, Anna Marie seemed to take her word for this.  "Really?  Well, you'll call me 'Anna', now—no argument.  And any friend of Jim's is welcome here."

 

"Thank you...Anna," Christine replied, hesitant but relieved.

 

Kirk, also, nodded gratefully.

 

"Should I call you 'Dr. Chapel' or 'Christine'?" Anna asked, then.

 

"I'd prefer 'Dr. Chapel'," Christine replied quietly, glancing back over at Kirk.  "I'm going back upstairs to finish packing."

 

"That's fine.  I want to talk to Mom for a while, anyway," Kirk returned amiably.

 

As Christine went back upstairs, she could not help overhearing part of Kirk's conversation with his mother.

 

"What happened to your other two friends, Spock and Leonard McCoy?" Anna asked.

 

"They couldn't come right away, but I'm expecting Spock in a week or so—I’m not exactly sure when," Kirk explained slowly, without much conviction in his voice.

 

That was all Christine had a chance to hear before Anna turned her chair around and headed for another room with Kirk right behind her—and before Christine herself reached the top of the stairs.  Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, after all; Anna seemed nice, and Kirk was trying his best to help her feel comfortable.  It was Christmas, after all, and she reminded herself that she wasn't the only one who wished Spock were here.  Resolving to be more understanding, she returned to her room and resumed unpacking, while Kirk and Anna discussed plans for the rest of their visit.

 

 

 

III

 

 

 

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Amanda was introducing Spock to relatives he had never met before: Annabelle, her husband, Greg Garson...their sons, George and Greg, Jr....George's wife, Emilia...Greg Jr.'s wife, Cecilia...and the children—Timothy and Theresa (George and Emelia's) and Bartholomew and Belinda (Greg, Jr. and Cecilia's).  Spock, of course, instantly memorized the names and faces, though he doubted the ability would make him any more acceptable in their eyes.  Jonathan's child seemed to have gone into hiding, for she was nowhere in sight as the introductions were taking place.  Assuming Jonathan would introduce her in his own good time, Spock tried to content himself with looking around the house and examining the Christmas tree—which was already surrounded by presents—anything to help him adjust to his new situation.

 

Jonathan had already taken Spock's bag up to the room they would share and Amanda's bag to his mother's room (his daughter was staying in the guest room).  Spock had not been able to avoid being startled by the degree to which his cousin still resembled Kirk—but more startling, even, than that had been the revelation that Jonathan, too, was an officer in Starfleet (though not a Captain).  Not so unexpected was the fact that no one but Jonathan and occasionally Elizabeth—she and Amanda had disappeared into the kitchen soon after their arrival and were presumably involved in cooking something—bothered to try to talk to him while he studied the various Christmas decorations.

 

The adults of Annabelle's family congregated on the other side of the room, talking among themselves and seeming to ignore Spock, though he periodically felt their eyes upon him.  The children insisted on racing around the house, imperiling everything from knick-knacks to the Christmas tree, until one of the men was able to convince them to go outside and play in the snow. Spock, meanwhile, sat on the carpeted floor near the tree and reflected on how grateful he was that most of these people would eventually have to go back to their hotel for the night.

 

The scent of the tree was intoxicating; Spock hadn't smelled pine since his last visit to Earth, when he had gone on a camping trip with Kirk and McCoy—and he had never seen a real Christmas tree before, since the ones on the Enterprise were always artificial.  It was decorated with a variety of ornaments, some obviously hand-made, plus red ribbons and a lot of tinsel and glitter.  The mantle near the tree was adorned with a beribboned pine garland and a series of decorated stockings, though all Spock could think of as he looked at the mantle decorations was that he wished there were a fire in the fireplace.  He felt cold, even though he knew the heat was on.  Similar garlands framed the windows, and lit candles were scattered around the living room.

 

Eventually, Spock succumbed to Human curiosity enough to visually examine the presents under the tree to see if any were meant for him.  He found none, and immediately regretted his foolishness; perhaps there were some underneath the topmost packages, but Spock refused to humiliate himself further by digging through them to find out—especially since there was still a good chance that it would be futile.  He inhaled the tree's scent again, again found himself thinking of Kirk and their past leaves in Terran and non-Terran forests, and made no effort to suppress the memories.  They were comforting in this not-too-comforting setting.

 

Finally, it was time for dinner, and Jonathan brought his daughter down from her room to eat. The children sat at their own table, as Spock had been told was customary, and he ate alone in the living room, in order to be as far away from the smell of roast simmering in its own juices as possible.  Amanda and Elizabeth explained to the others about Spock's strict vegetarian diet and why the smell of cooked meat was offensive to him, then Amanda prepared a plate for him with those of the assorted side dishes that she thought he might like: asparagus with mushroom sauce, ginger carrots and crescent rolls.

 

Spock nibbled at each, finding them all quite palatable, but also finding that he wasn't really hungry.  He watched the children eat, noting that Jonathan's daughter ate slowly and in silence, seeming oblivious to her more rambunctious cousins.  Later, when Elizabeth came to get his plate and expressed concern over the amount of food he had left there, Spock hastened to assure her that it was his own appetite—not her cooking—that was at fault, politely declining her offer of a slice of pumpkin pie.

 

After Spock and Amanda had voluntarily helped Elizabeth put up the dishes, Annabelle's family were preparing to leave for the night, and Jonathan had taken his child back upstairs for some reason, Spock overheard a confrontation in the kitchen between Elizabeth and Annabelle.

 

"I still don't see why he couldn't have at least sat at the table with the rest of us," Annabelle was complaining.

 

"We already explained that," Elizabeth replied evenly.

 

"What's he doing here, anyway?  Vulcans don't celebrate Christmas, do they?" Annabelle questioned, then.

 

"Not usually.  But Amanda tells me that Spock has celebrated it with his friends on the Enterprise—and this year, she wanted him to celebrate it with us; after all, we're his family," Elizabeth reminded her.

 

"I'm not sure that's such a good idea."

 

"Now, Annabelle—“

 

"I'm serious.  'Lizbeth, I'm sorry—but when I look at him, I don't think of Christmas.  I think of Halloween."

 

"Maybe you should try thinking instead of the fact that he's our nephew and our children's cousin.  You knew Amanda was bringing him when you came," Elizabeth admonished.

 

"Yes—but I'd hoped he favored Amanda.  The children are terrified of him, and I can't ask George and Greg, Jr. to insist on them spending Christmas with him."

 

"Oh, please.  The children haven't given Spock the time of day since he's been here; if they'd talk to him and try to get to know him, they'd know there's no reason to be afraid of him."

 

Someone else got into the conversation, and Spock recognized the voice as belonging to George.  "I'm not going to force Tim and Terry to socialize with that...half-breed Vulcan...for the whole Christmas and New Years' holiday!" he stage-whispered.

 

"All right, both of you, that's enough!" Elizabeth interjected, becoming angry but still trying to keep her voice down.  "What's the matter with you?  This is Christmas.  Good will toward men, remember?  And that includes Vulcans.  Spock is a member of this family and a guest in my home, and anybody who can't treat him—and Amanda—as such has my permission to leave."

 

Spock did not try to listen any further.  Instead, he retreated across the room and looked out the window at the snow, trying to focus on that alone and block out the sound of the continuing argument.  That became increasingly difficult when Annabelle and George carried their side of it out into the living room and were joined by other members of their family as they all began to put on their coats, caps and gloves and file out the door.

 

Jonathan and Amanda came down the stairs with his child just as the last of them stepped out the door.  They looked from Elizabeth, who was still shaking her head in disgust as she watched Annabelle's family leave, to Spock, who was still standing statue-like at the window with his back to them, and knew something was wrong.  When Elizabeth saw Amanda, she motioned her closer; Amanda and Jonathan both followed her back across the room, where Elizabeth explained in whispers what had happened.  Spock, meanwhile, continued to ignore them, not moving until he saw the Garsons' three aircars pulling out of their parking spots.  Then he sat down in a chair near the tree and tried vainly to meditate as Amanda and Elizabeth sat down at the dining table to talk.

 

"I'm sorry, Amanda.  I'd really hoped Spock would enjoy himself while he was here," Elizabeth apologized sincerely.  "I don't suppose there's any point in asking either of you to stay."

 

"I certainly can't if Spock doesn't," Amanda asserted frankly.  "It's still three weeks 'til Christmas.  I really don't think Spock could stand this type of treatment for that long, if it's going to continue—especially when he knows he has a standing invitation to spend Christmas elsewhere."

 

"Where?" Elizabeth wondered, immediately looking embarrassed at having said so aloud.  It was possible Spock didn't want that discussed, particularly since Vulcans so fiercely guarded their personal lives.

 

"With a friend of his from the Enterprise who's spending Christmas in Iowa," Amanda replied carefully.

 

"This friend wouldn't be the renowned Captain Kirk, would it?"

 

Amanda looked up at Jonathan, who was still standing between them with his little girl in his arms, in surprise.

 

"You've told us about him in your stargrams.  Remember, Aunt Mandy?"

 

"Frequently," Elizabeth added dryly.

 

"Besides, everybody in Starfleet's heard of him and his crew, and I knew he was from Iowa," Jonathan continued.  "I thought I was finally going to get to meet him in person today."

 

"Well, I have good reason to go on and on about him.  Besides the fact that he's always been gracious to me, he's good to Spock—and good for him.  And Spock loves him dearly, although I doubt you'd ever get him to admit it to you," Amanda returned, somewhat defensively.  "Yes, he wanted Captain Kirk to come with him...but the Captain had a prior commitment.  Now more than ever, I wish Spock could've talked him into coming."

 

Jonathan watched Spock sympathetically.  "Somebody ought to go talk to him—let him know that some of us want him to stay," he opined.

 

"Not yet, Jon.  See the way he's sitting?  He's trying to meditate," Amanda cautioned, following his gaze.  "Wait until he's through."

 

"All right.  But I want Catherine to meet him before she has to go to bed—in case you two decide to leave tomorrow," Jonathan decided, sitting down at the table with Catherine in his lap. While Amanda and Elizabeth drank hot chocolate, Jonathan watched and waited.  By the time they finished the hot chocolate, Spock was just sitting sideways in his chair with his knees drawn up under his chin, apparently staring at the tree.  "Is he still meditating?" Jonathan asked Amanda doubtfully.

 

"No, I think you can talk to him now," Amanda asserted, getting up from the table as Jonathan did and watching as he headed into the living room, eventually following him while Elizabeth took the mugs back into the kitchen.

 

On his way, Jonathan stopped to turn on the Christmas tree lights, while Amanda turned on the end-table lamps by the sofa.  When he finally reached Spock's side, he set Catherine on her feet on the floor before speaking to his Vulcan cousin.  "Spock...Mom told me what happened.  I just want you to know that I'm glad you're here, and I hope you'll stay."

 

"I...appreciate that, Jonathan, but it is obvious that my presence is going to disrupt your family Christmas celebration.  I prefer to go where I will not cause such a… disturbance," Spock returned neutrally, keeping his voice as expressionless as his face.  “Fortunately, I have not unpacked my bag."

 

"You're planning to leave tomorrow, aren't you?"

 

Spock finally looked up in response to the disappointment in Jonathan's voice.  "I see no logic in delaying the inevitable.  You may wish me to stay, but you are clearly in the minority," he pointed out quietly.

 

"All right. Well, better not waste any time, then. There's a little lady here who I want you to meet," Jonathan concluded resignedly, diverting Catherine's attention from the tree and pointing her in Spock's direction as the latter lowered his legs and sat up straight in his chair.  "I wanted to wait until things were a little quieter around here to bring her back down.  Anyway, this is my little Catherine Amanda—she just turned eight last August.  Catherine, this is Spock.  He's your cousin."

 

"Mother mentioned you had been married," Spock recalled, watching as Catherine—with a little encouragement from her father—moved close enough to reach out a hand to him.  He found himself staring down into eyes slightly greener than Jonathan's, now wide with curiosity, set in a roundish face that was framed by brown curls.

 

"Yes, I was married—for about two years," Jonathan reflected wistfully.  "How many Chief Medical Officers have you ever heard of who fell in love with their own Head Nurse?"

 

Inadvertently, Spock found himself thinking of Christine—and of the fact that she, too, was waiting for him in Iowa.  "I suppose...it is not impossible, considering how closely you must have worked with her," he answered carefully.

 

Jonathan nodded.  "A few months after Catherine was born—she’s a very intelligent child and was already starting to talk, not full sentences, but recognizable words: 'mama', 'dada', 'bed', things like that—anyway, at about that time, our ship came under attack.  There were damage and injuries, and my wife and I were called to different areas of the ship.  One of the damaged areas turned out to be the Officers' Lounge, where we'd left Catherine with some friends—it was full of people at the time of the attack.  Everyone was called to battle stations, of course, but nobody in the Lounge had a chance to get out.  Romulans with a cloaked ship—we didn't even get our shields raised until after the first couple of shots," he explained slowly.

 

"My wife, Cathy, was sent to the Lounge, along with a medical team and a bunch of technicians who'd been called to repair some structural damage to the inner hull.  By the time I was able to get there, most of the injured had been moved out and Cathy had just picked up the baby.  Right after she handed her to me, the Romulans fired again, there was a jolt, and Cathy fell into a live wire hanging from the ceiling.  She was looking right at the baby and me as I took her, and her body just...lit up like she'd been hit by a phaser point-blank.  She didn't say anything, just stared at us and fell."  Jonathan's voice had become hushed.  "I can handle the memories—if  'handling them' is what this is—but Catherine hasn't spoken a word since.  We’ve both gone to doctors and counselors, but—“

 

"Hysterical laryngitis," Spock concluded understandingly.

 

"Right.  I suppose I should consider myself lucky she's even alive, though we knew the risks when Cathy and I decided to get married and stay with the Lexington—both of us stubborn as mules, refusing to resign from Starfleet or let someone else assume the responsibility we knew was ours.  Fortunately, we have an understanding Captain who arranged with Starfleet for us to keep the baby aboard, and great friends to help with the babysitting."

 

Again, Spock could not help thinking of his own situation—he and Christine could easily find themselves in the same position someday.  "It is a risk.  But not everyone would have a choice under those circumstances," he remarked softly, reaching to gently touch the small hand that Catherine still patiently held out to him.  "Some have nowhere else to go.  Everything—everyone—that matters to them is on the ship.  It is their life.  If they find someone willing to share that life with

 

them—“

 

"They're very lucky and they shouldn't pass up that chance," Jonathan finished knowingly, already suspecting that Spock might be speaking from personal experience, but knowing that his cousin would not discuss it directly.  He watched Catherine's hand latch onto Spock's fingers briefly as she climbed onto the arm of his chair, still studying the Vulcan's face intently.  "Say, that's pretty good—she really takes to you, Spock.  A lot better than she did to her other cousins, and they're closer to her age."  He saw Catherine reach up to touch Spock's ear-tip.  "That's enough, Catherine—you’re bothering Spock," he cautioned her, looking at Spock apologetically.  "Sorry about that."

 

"It is not offensive," Spock assured him, smiling slightly, in spite of himself.  The edge of his ears was one of his ticklish spots, and Jonathan was one of only two people (excluding his mother) who knew where those spots were.  "I seem to recall you reacting the same way when we first met."

 

"Yes, I remember."

 

Spock managed to stay still until Catherine was through exploring the edge of his ear.  "How does she communicate?" he asked, then.

 

"Usually, she carries a pen and notepad around with her; otherwise, it's sign language--and fortunately, there's nothing wrong with her hearing."

 

Finally Catherine got down off the arm of the chair and went to look at the tree again, and Jonathan returned to his original topic.  

 

"If you're really leaving tomorrow, Spock, you have to at least let us give you and Aunt Mandy your gifts before you go," he persisted.

 

"I am not certain Mother is leaving.  Besides, I saw no presents for me under the tree," Spock returned, resuming his previous controlled tone and manner.  "Unless you have them hidden elsewhere."

 

"Oh, they're there.  They just got buried under the avalanche of presents added by Aunt Annabelle and Uncle Greg—one for each of you from Mom, me and Catherine," Jonathan explained.  "I wouldn't want you to leave without them."

 

"We will not," Spock promised, still in the same neutral tone.

 

"I'll hold you to that."

 

"Understood."

 

Jonathan reached for Catherine's hand.  "Time for you to go to bed, now—go on upstairs," he instructed.

 

Catherine stood up and looked at her father.  After a moment of hesitation, she brought her hand to her mouth, kissed her palm, and pointed to Spock, keeping her eyes on Jonathan.

 

"No, Cathy, I don't think so," he responded, returning her gaze with a disapproving expression.  "Do you remember our talk about Vulcans last night, and what I said about them not liking to be touched?"

 

She nodded slowly, looking crestfallen.

 

"What does she want, Jonathan?" Spock asked, curious in spite of himself.

 

"She wants to give you a good-night kiss," Jonathan revealed ruefully.  "It's something she always asks me about when I have friends on the ship baby-sit with her.  I usually let her, but I already explained to her last night that this was one time when she couldn't."

 

Feeling both embarrassed by the idea and touched that it seemed completely Catherine's, Spock lowered his eyes, blushing faintly green.  Unlike his other little cousins, this child had not had her instinctive fear of the unknown encouraged.  She was not afraid of him, nor did she show any distaste; she was merely curious, open and trusting—as Jonathan had been at that age, when they first met.  "If...she wishes it...I would not object," Spock acceded hesitantly, lifting his head finally.

 

Immediately, Catherine climbed into his lap and leaned up to kiss him on the cheek, quickly climbing back down again.

 

“A remarkable child," Spock murmured, as she turned to go.

 

"And perceptive," Jonathan added proudly, his eyes following her.

 

As Catherine headed for the stairs, Amanda came to join Jonathan and Spock.  She indicated with her eyes that Jonathan should leave them alone for a time, and he got up silently, going to join Elizabeth in the kitchen.

 

"I should have gone with Jim," Spock stated quietly, once they were alone.

 

"You haven't done anything wrong, Spock.  Their problems with you are...of their own making," Amanda tried to assure him.

 

"My presence is wrong, Mother.  I do not belong here," Spock countered firmly, but in a voice edged with pain.

 

"You haven't even been here a full day—at least give it that much time.  Wait 'til day after tomorrow to leave," Amanda entreated.

 

"What would that accomplish, other than driving away your sister and her family to spend Christmas elsewhere?  Have I not already given offense enough?" Spock challenged, in growing discomfort, lowering his eyes again.

 

"They're the ones who are offensive," Amanda pointed out gently, though her voice was touched by anger not meant for Spock, reaching to lay a hand on his shoulder.  "Elizabeth is willing to risk them leaving to have you stay."

 

"That would hardly be logical.  I am the intruder, and I should be the one to leave."

 

"You're part of the family," Amanda insisted, though in truth, she was beginning to doubt that, herself.  Maybe her family was no longer hers, and neither of them had a place here.

 

"Perhaps I am part of Aunt Elizabeth and Jonathan's family.  But the others clearly do not regard me as such."

 

Amanda found that she had run out of arguments and had no incentive to think up any more. She sighed in frustration as she withdrew her hand.  "I'm sorry, Spock.  I should never have insisted on you coming—and I shouldn't have come, either."

 

"You only meant to share your family's Christmas celebration with me.  There is nothing wrong with that, Mother," Spock reminded her understandingly.  "It is not your fault that they are... unwilling to accept me."  He reached to take her hands in his.  "If this had happened two years ago, I would not have known where to go.  Now I have a place...but that place is not here."

 

"I know.  And I'm sure Captain Kirk must be missing you," Amanda acknowledged sympathetically, squeezing his hands.  "But I do wish you'd wait one more day."

 

Spock gave in finally, sighing.  "Very well, if it is truly so important to you," he acceded reluctantly.  "You said you would leave, too.  Where will you go?"

 

"I hadn't really thought about it, actually," Amanda admitted.  "I suppose I should just go back to Vulcan...but that's not much of a place to spend Christmas."

 

Spock nodded understandingly.  "Do you have other relatives?"

 

"My brother's family.  But they have the same attitude as Annabelle, and they'd never take me in on such short notice, anyway."

 

Spock considered the matter silently for a time.  "Perhaps...you should consider coming to Iowa with me," he suggested cautiously, at last.  "I am not certain how much room Jim's mother will have...but if you would not object to staying in a hotel, I am certain that he would welcome you."

 

"Oh, Spock, I don't know—that would be an awful imposition, especially when his mother doesn't know me," Amanda objected dubiously.

 

"She knows me...at least, Jim has mentioned me to her.  He might have mentioned you, too," Spock opined hopefully.

 

"I can't imagine why," Amanda returned, still not convinced.

 

"Perhaps for no other reason than that you are my mother.  He does think of you occasionally."  Spock paused, giving her time to digest this.  "Mother... would it not be better than returning to Vulcan?"

 

"Yes," Amanda admitted, sighing.  "All right, I suppose I could try it."

 

"I will ask when we contact Jim," Spock decided finally.

 

Elizabeth and Jonathan passed by just then on their way to the stairs, announcing that they were going to bed and saying their good-nights to Spock and Amanda.  No sooner were they out of sight than Amanda stood up and stretched.  "I guess I'll turn in, too," she told Spock.  "Coming?"

 

"Not right now, Mother.  I would prefer to stay here for a time," Spock replied faintly.

 

"All right..." Amanda leaned down and kissed him on the forehead.  "Be sure to turn off all the lights when you go to bed—and that includes the Christmas tree lights," she admonished.

 

Spock nodded distractedly in acknowledgement of her instructions.  When she was out of the room, he studied the tree again; the flickering lights gave a new dimension to its beauty, with their multi-colored glow reflecting off silver and gold ornaments, illuminating portions of the tree that had looked dark during the day.  He had never touched the tree or anything on it, convinced he would accidentally break or crush anything he tried to handle with his Vulcan strength—all those fragile-looking ornaments, especially the metallic ones.  Fragile, yet beautiful...as so many things are, Spock noted to himself.  He once again drank in the sight and scent, only to be reminded once again of the intolerance of his mother's relatives and how much he missed Jim and Christine—and  this time, the memory surfaced with such force that the pain was almost physical.

 

Enough of this. I am not responsible for their irrational behavior, he scolded himself, impatiently pushing the memories aside as he got up and headed for the kitchen.  Jim had long ago acquainted him with the therapeutic qualities of hot chocolate for depression and other types of emotional distress, and when available, it was much easier and more pleasant than Vulcan emotional controls—and besides, Spock was cold.

 

He reflected as he prepared it on how strange it seemed that neither Jonathan nor Aunt Elizabeth had offered him any hot chocolate before now, especially if they weren't going to have a fire in the fireplace; they knew of his cold sensitivity and his fondness for the drink, since he had openly displayed both during his one previous childhood visit.  Spock decided that they had not intentionally neglected him, but simply had too much on their minds to remember.

 

When the hot chocolate was ready—the mix had been left out on the counter—Spock opened up the refrigerator and rummaged through it for the whipped cream, squirting a generous amount into the hot chocolate, then grabbed a napkin and spoon and headed back into the living room.  Once there, he sat down on the sofa and drank it slowly—but, for whatever reason, the hot chocolate this time failed to work its magic, and Spock actually felt worse after drinking it.

 

He quickly realized that this was because it had made him think of Jim again—Jim sensing some degree of turmoil within him, bringing him hot chocolate from the Officers' Lounge and coaxing him into drinking it with assurances that he would feel better afterwards—which had in turn made him relive today's experiences with Aunt Annabelle's family.  Somehow, he had hoped that it would be different now that he had learned to accept his Human half—hoped that somehow, that acceptance would be visible enough that Humans would be more receptive to him—but  obviously, he was always going to be too Vulcan for some Humans.

 

I should never have allowed myself to believe that Mother's family would treat me any different than Sarek's, Spock told himself morosely, getting up to take the empty mug back to the kitchen.  Why should they? They do not know me, except as the product of a marriage they never understood. It does not occur to them that a Vulcan might be as worthy of love as a Human...or perhaps they merely think that Vulcans cannot appreciate love as much as Humans.  In either case, I doubt I could convince them otherwise.  Spock turned off the lights as he came back through the living room, ending with the tree lights, and moved cautiously through the sudden blackness to the sofa, slipping off his boots and curling up on it, deciding not to go to bed; it seemed pointless, since it was unlikely he would be able to sleep.

 

He rested his folded arms on top of the sofa back and his chin on top of his folded arms, looking out the window at the snow—he could just make out the light but persistent snowfall. Spock already regretted agreeing to stay another day, recalling that his wish to please his mother was what had gotten him into this situation in the first place; mentally, he was already in Iowa with Jim and Christine.  The way things were going for him here, though, he could not help wondering if Jim's mother would accept him any more easily than his own aunt had.  And again, in spite of himself, Spock found himself hoping.  He really did not want to go back to the ship and spend Christmas alone, and that would be his only choice if it became apparent that his presence wasn't welcome even in Jim's childhood home.

 

Abruptly, an emotion that he had not experienced since halfway through the Enterprise's first five-year mission washed over Spock, an emotion that he had never expected to experience with such intensity after his encounter with V'ger: he wished Christmas were over with.  If this was what Christmas on Earth was destined to be like for Spock, he wanted no more of it.  He already felt cold and lonely, and he found no incentive to suppress the emotions—for who was there to see them?  He tried once again to concentrate on Jim and Christine, and his hope that he would feel more welcome and comfortable once he was with them.

 

For a while, it seemed to help, as Spock thought of their eagerness to have him with them, and of the emotions behind Jim's invitation to spend Christmas with him—but then he found that his increased longing for their company and impatience to leave only worsened his unhappiness with his present situation.  Spock tried once again to meditate, but found he was in too much turmoil now to settle into the proper mental state; bereft of access to his usual alternatives—which  all involved some kind of interaction with Kirk—Spock thought of Jonathan's resemblance to his closest friend and briefly considered waking his cousin up.  But he quickly dismissed the idea as being too presumptuous—and besides, if Jonathan refused to help him, Spock was certain the humiliation would crush him.

 

He cradled his bowed head in his arms as the burning behind his eyes increased and he felt a tear trickle down his cheek.  Deciding that perhaps releasing his emotions now—as much as he could—would make the next day more bearable for him, Spock made no effort to suppress the tears.  He wept silently, knowing it would be undetectable by anyone who could not see his face and trusting Elizabeth and Jonathan to see that he was awakened before Annabelle's family arrived.

 

 

 

IV

 

 

 

Jonathan woke up early for some reason, and when he saw that Spock's bed had not been slept in, he got up, pulled on a robe and slippers, and went to wake up his mother.  She followed his example, then they both went downstairs.  Spock was still sitting on the sofa where he had fallen asleep, in the same position, except that his head was now facing sideways, his face clearly visible.  They approached him on tip-toe and Jonathan leaned close, seeing something still glistening on his cousin's cheek—beneath the greenish puffiness around his eyes.  "Mom, he's been crying!" Jonathan exclaimed in surprise, barely managing to keep his voice at a whisper, before straightening.

 

"I guess that explains why he never went to bed.  He didn't want to risk someone getting up and seeing him," Elizabeth realized, whispering back.

 

"Should we wake him?"

 

Elizabeth shook her head.  "He probably hasn't been asleep very long, and Annabelle and Greg's bunch are late sleepers.  I'll go back up and get him a blanket."

 

"Yeah, he must be freezing.  Vulcans have a low toleration for cold, you know—you really should have had a fire going in here yesterday," Jonathan pointed out.

 

"I knew I forgot something.  All right, Jon, you go out and bring in some firewood.  I keep forgetting our regular heating system isn't enough for him."

 

They separated briefly then, Elizabeth going back upstairs and Jonathan grabbing his coat on his way outside.  Elizabeth came back down with a thick, heavy electric blanket and carefully pulled it around Spock, covering as much of him as she could before switching it on.  Jonathan came in shortly thereafter and found his mother still watching Spock worriedly; he approvingly noted the blanket now covering Spock.  "That ought to keep him warm until I get the fire going good," he observed softly, checking to see that the temperature controls were set high enough.

 

Elizabeth just nodded in response, and Jonathan set about getting the fire started, setting the logs in the fireplace as quietly as possible.

 

Some fifteen minutes later, the fire was crackling energetically and Jonathan came back to join his mother in watching Spock.  "Maybe we should wake up Aunt Mandy," he suggested, still whispering.

 

"No, not as long as he seems to be all right.  I'm going to fix breakfast—hopefully, he'll be hungry when he wakes up.  Yesterday, he hardly ate at all."

 

Jonathan decided to stay with Spock and carefully sat down next to him on the sofa, continuing to watch him as time passed.  Eventually, he reached out involuntarily to stroke the Vulcan's hair as Spock continued to sleep.  Poor Spock...I'm sorry you're having such a rotten time, he thought regretfully.

 

Spock stirred slightly without waking up and seemed to relax a bit—an instinctive response to Jonathan's mental emanations of compassion; in his unnatural sleep state, those same instincts connected the mental emanations not to his Human cousin, but to a more familiar source.  "Jim..." he murmured, almost inaudibly.

 

Jonathan didn't know whether to feel embarrassed or honored.  Amanda had told him of his resemblance to Starfleet's most famous Captain—and she had not been the only one to notice it, either; everywhere he went and everyone he met within Starfleet seemed to be full of gossip about it.  And when he had finally seen Kirk on the news one night, even Jonathan himself had had to acknowledge their similarities.  Occasionally, he wondered if Spock had been drawn to his Captain in part because of subconscious memories of his cousin, though Jonathan had eventually decided he was flattering himself—it was unlikely that he could have made that influential an impression during Spock's one previous visit all those years ago.

 

It had taken Jonathan years to establish his own reputation within Starfleet—one independent of the high but unique expectations aroused by his resemblance to Kirk—and it now seemed unfair to let Spock go on believing, even in sleep, that he was Kirk.  On the other hand, if it brought his half-Vulcan cousin even temporary inner peace...Jonathan removed his hand from Spock's head and reached instead for his cousin's hand; he was not surprised to feel Spock's fingers close around his in response and hold on tightly.  With his other hand, Jonathan wiped the last tears from his cousin's face and pulled the blanket more securely around him.  Soon, it became apparent that Spock was having some kind of a dream—a pleasant one, from his facial expression.

 

When Elizabeth came to announce that breakfast was ready, she realized, upon seeing Jonathan, that he wasn't about to leave Spock's side until the latter woke up.  She decided to take the opportunity this provided to eat her own breakfast and went back to the kitchen to fix herself a plate.  When she had finished eating, about half an hour later, she returned to Jonathan and Spock, deciding that she had waited long enough.

 

"Jonathan—it’s time," she said quietly.  "The others'll be here soon, and I want Spock to have a chance to eat breakfast in peace."

 

Reluctantly, Jonathan released Spock's hand; as he was trying to decide how best to wake Spock up, Spock—apparently disturbed by the sudden withdrawal of physical contact—awoke on his own.  He sat back, turned around, and looked at Jonathan in embarrassment before quickly lowering his eyes.

 

"Rough night," Jonathan observed gently, making it a statement of fact, rather than a question Spock would have to answer.

 

"At first," Spock admitted faintly.  "But later...I had a dream, Jonathan.  For a time, it seemed as if Jim were with me...sitting beside me, talking to me.  It was you, was it not?  You touched me?"

 

"Yes."  Jonathan hesitated.  "When I saw you'd been crying, I had to do something.  That was the only thing I could think of without waking you up."

 

"No one else saw me?"

 

"Just me and Mom.  Nobody else is up yet, and the others won't be here 'til later."

 

Spock lifted his head slowly.  "Then my only objection is that...I must now awaken to the same reality I faced yesterday: he is not here, and I will soon be surrounded by people who view me with distaste," he told Jonathan carefully.

 

"Well, like I said, I didn't know what else to do," Jonathan reiterated, now fighting his own embarrassment.  "I'm sorry it's just made things worse.  I thought I was helping."

 

"You were," Spock assured him kindly.  "Your intervention made it possible for me to at least sleep peacefully; I truly thought I was with Jim.  Even if it could not last, I appreciate your... assistance."

 

"I'm glad I did the right thing, then," Jonathan replied, although he was still not fully convinced that he had.  "You'll be seeing him tomorrow, after all.  One more day isn't going to be that long to wait, is it?"

 

"No," Spock admitted reluctantly, "although, under certain circumstances, a day can seem much longer than it is.  My...impatience...is in part a by-product of my regret for not having gone with him to begin with.  After all, I have never seen his childhood home or met his mother; I have been here before."

 

"But I'm glad you came, even if it turned out to be only for a couple of days," Jonathan insisted.  "Look how long it's been since the last time I saw you.  Who knows how long it'll be before the next time?"

 

"Starfleet duty does not allow much time for regular family visitations," Spock pointed out quietly, deciding it was best not to remind his cousin that a large part of the reason he had not repeated his childhood visit was that Sarek had forbidden it.  "But I will try not to wait so long for the next one... preferably timing it when you are not having...other guests."

 

Jonathan nodded understandingly.  "Speaking of which, Mom wants you to eat breakfast before Aunt Annabelle and Uncle Greg get here."

 

Spock finally looked up, noticed Elizabeth standing by patiently, and he stood up, also, stretching carefully.  "Aunt Elizabeth—”

 

"Now, Spock, no argument—I’m not going to have Captain Kirk thinking we tried to starve you while you were here," Elizabeth interrupted firmly.

 

"I was only going to ask...what you wanted me to eat," Spock explained agreeably, looking at her in puzzled innocence.

 

Elizabeth smiled at him.  "Amanda tells me you like cinnamon.  Have you ever had apple strudel?"

 

Spock shook his head, following her curiously back to the dining room table as she described it to him; Jonathan, meanwhile, decided he had better go get Amanda up.  Both she and Jonathan had showered, changed clothes and come back downstairs by the time Spock was finished eating, at which point the Vulcan realized he had better do likewise.  Meanwhile, Amanda and Jonathan ate their own breakfast, discussing in general terms Spock's difficulties of the previous night (though neither Jonathan nor Elizabeth specifically mentioned his crying).  By the time Spock came back down, only Jonathan was still eating; the two women were at the window, obviously anticipating the arrival of Annabelle's family.  While they were still waiting, Catherine came downstairs—fully dressed and this time with her customary pen and notepad—and Jonathan fixed breakfast for her.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

It was well after Elizabeth and Jonathan's normal lunch time when the Garsons finally arrived, leaving the children to play in the snow while the adults went inside.  As soon as they noticed Spock sitting by the tree with Jonathan and helping him entertain Catherine, Annabelle and Greg accosted Elizabeth, while other members of the family appeared to stop abruptly in the act of taking off their coats.

 

"Oh, don't worry—he’s leaving tomorrow.  I hope you're all satisfied," Elizabeth retorted bitterly, making no secret of her resentment of them for driving Spock and Amanda away.  She hardly saw them, as it was...now, they might never come back.  "They both are.  And the more I think about it, Annabelle, the less I think you're worth the trouble.  Your whole family has treated Spock atrociously, and you've completely ignored Amanda.  The worst of it is, they haven't done anything to deserve it, and you know it!"

 

"We never suggested Amanda should leave!"

 

"Amanda's welcome to stay!"

 

Annabelle and Greg protested simultaneously, seeming to ignore the rest of Elizabeth's accusations.

 

Before any of the others could register agreement, Amanda responded tersely from where she still stood, some distance away, by the window: "Oh, save your breath, both of you.  I'm not about to spend Christmas with anybody, family or not, who isn't willing to spend it with my son as well as me.  It's just this kind of narrow-minded attitude that has made Spock afraid to meet any more of his Human relatives...and fool that I am, I thought you'd have the decency to suspend your disapproval for the sake of Christmas.  Well, this is the last time I'll make the mistake of insisting that he meet more of my family.  I'm ashamed of you—and for you, since you don't seem to know enough to be ashamed of yourselves.  I wish to God that you did!"  With that, Amanda whirled back to the window, ignoring them and making it clear that that was the last time she intended to speak to them.

 

That set the tone for the rest of the day, during which an air of tension pervaded the Grayson household.  Elizabeth's houseguests immediately separated into two groups—Annabelle’s family and a group consisting of Spock, Amanda, Jonathan, Elizabeth and Catherine—which, except for Elizabeth (who, as hostess, had no choice), did not intermingle; Spock's group stayed near the tree while Annabelle's group floated about the house, moving as their whims indicated, and Elizabeth made no attempt to get the two groups to interact together.  She knew by now that it was pointless, and she didn't want to risk Spock and Amanda feeling any worse than they already did.

 

As soon as the Garsons had finally left, Jonathan and Elizabeth began separating Amanda's and Spock's presents from the others, wishing the latter two were in a better mood to appreciate the gifts.  Spock received a blue and gray cap-and-scarf set from Jonathan, matching gloves from Catherine, and a book from Elizabeth, while Amanda received a multi-colored, hooded cape from Elizabeth, a gold scarf from Catherine and a necklace from Jonathan.  In exchange, Amanda gave them gifts on Spock's behalf as well as her own—anticipating that her son would have no idea what to give them—all brought with her from Vulcan: wind chimes for Elizabeth, a nightgown for Catherine, and a wall hanging for Jonathan.

 

All were appropriately enthusiastic about the gifts they'd received—all except Spock, who seemed moved beyond words and suddenly seemed to withdraw into himself as he absently stroked the woolen-like material of his new cap and scarf set.  After a time, he just as suddenly got up and headed for the stairs with all his presents.

 

"Spock?" Amanda questioned worriedly.

 

"I must get ready to go, Mother.  And I want to call Jim right away—his comm number is in my bag," Spock told her, hurrying up the stairs.  He came back down almost immediately and handed the piece of the paper with the number on it to Amanda.  "If you will contact Jim, I will see that both our bags are packed.  If possible, I think I would prefer to leave tonight."

 

"You expect Captain Kirk to go out in the snow in the middle of the night to meet us?  It'll be awfully late when we get there," Amanda objected dubiously.

 

“I think...I hope...Jim will understand.  Please, Mother."

 

Amanda still looked uncomfortable with the idea.

 

And abruptly, Spock realized why.  "Do not be concerned; I will still be responsible for securing permission for you to come," he promised.

 

"All right," Amanda acceded reluctantly, heading for Elizabeth's comm terminal while Spock went back upstairs.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Kirk had spent his first day at his mother's home acquainting Christine—and re-acquainting himself—with the house, yard and surrounding land where he had grown up, and soon they had both forgotten their disappointment that Spock wasn't with them.  On the second day, Kirk decided that they had better go get a Christmas tree and took Christine with him to the wooded section of the farm in a specially-designed aircar with a lumber transport in the back that his mother had bought years ago, specifically to bring Christmas trees to the house without a lot of people having to help.

 

It was nearly dark when they finally found the right tree and brought it back to the house, and still later when Kirk had picked out a spot for it in the living room and gotten it set up—all under the watchful eyes of his mother, of course, who sat in her airchair by the living room doors and kibitzed helpfully (or at least well-meaningly) as they worked.  "All right, we'll have to wait at least 'til tomorrow to give the branches a chance to settle before we decorate it.  In the mean time, we can get the rest of the decorations out and start on the rest of the house," Kirk decided then, glancing over at his mother.  "Still keep them in the same place?"

 

"Yes, Jim—in the basement," Anna asserted.

 

He looked back at Christine.  "Shall we?"

 

"By all means.  I can't wait to see what your decorations look like," Christine agreed, surprising even herself with her own eagerness.

 

"Come on, then."  Kirk led her out to the basement entrance beneath the staircase, and they emerged a short time later, each carrying a large box back to the living room; it took them two trips to bring up all the decorations.

 

While he and Christine were going through the boxes and examining the contents, a doorbell

 

-like tone issued from a wall speaker near the living room entrance.  "Oh, Heavens, that's the comm!" Anna exclaimed, clearly unhappy with the interruption.  "Now, don't you two put up too many of those decorations—I want to watch, and I'll take it out there so I don’t disturb you."

 

"All right, Mom, we'll wait for you," Kirk promised understandingly, as Anna turned her airchair around and headed out the door.

 

"Are these the tree ornaments?" Christine asked curiously, pointing down to the box directly in front of her.

 

Kirk nodded, briefly removing the lid so she could get a look at them.  “Most of them are homemade.  Sam and I used to help Mom make them every year until Sam graduated from high school and I entered Starfleet Academy.  She kept making them every year until a couple of years ago; now she can only make a few at a time, just when the arthritis in her hands isn't bothering her too much," he explained.

 

"They're gorgeous," Christine declared, kneeling to examine them more closely.

 

"I've always thought so.  Of course, the ones Sam and I made aren't quite so professional-looking—especially the earliest ones."

 

"Are they in here, too?"

 

"Oh, yes—Mom insisted on keeping and using all of them," Kirk replied, closing the lid finally.

 

Christine looked up at him, suddenly inspired.  "Hey, do you think she could show me how to make ornaments like that?"

 

"Oh, I think she'd love to, if she still has the materials around; I'll have to have her check," Kirk returned, somewhat surprised.  "Are you really interested in learning?"

 

"Captain, you know how I love to make things.  Remember the IDIC pillows and quilt I made for Spock's bed?"

 

Kirk nodded again; that had been during his time on the Admiralty and right after the V'ger mission.

 

"But I've never made ornaments before, and I'd love to be able to make something that looks this pretty.  Besides, someday..." Christine trailed off uncomfortably, averting her eyes.

 

"'Someday', what?" Kirk asked curiously.

 

She hesitated for a long moment.  "Nothing," she mumbled finally.

 

"I don't believe it.  Come on, Christine—what were you thinking about?"

 

The gentleness with which he spoke to her somehow made Kirk's defiance of Christine's request that he address her as "Dr. Chapel" permissible.  In fact, Christine realized that he had discontinued that practice after the first couple of times.  It was no more comfortable for him than calling him by his first name was for her.  "I was just thinking that...someday...after Spock and I are married, maybe after we transfer to ground assignments or retire from Starfleet, we might have our own Christmas tree, and I could make ornaments," she explained softly.

 

"Why wait?  You could make some for our tree at the Bridge crew's Christmas party on the Enterprise," Kirk suggested helpfully.  "So could I, I guess, if I can remember how and get the materials."

 

"That's worth considering," Christine admitted, sitting back.  "Especially since I have no guarantee that Spock ever really will marry me."

 

Kirk walked over to her, slowly and deliberately taking her left hand in such a way as to point out the ring on her finger.  "That's not costume jewelry, you know.  Spock wouldn't have given it to you if he didn't mean to marry you."

 

Christine studied the ring also, sighing.  "I know, but it's been two years and we're not even bonded, yet."  She looked up at him worriedly.  "Is it really possible for Kolinahr to have thrown his cycle off this much?"

 

"It's impossible for it not to have.  If he'd had a pon farr, we'd both know it; trust me on that," Kirk assured her emphatically.  "I'm sure he's just waiting for the right time and circumstances for the bonding.  Who knows?  Maybe he'll pick this Christmas leave to do it."

 

"Oh, I'm sure.  Right after he samples your mother's ham at Christmas dinner," she retorted dryly.

 

Kirk couldn't help chuckling in response as he shook his head.  "I'm serious.  It could happen," he persisted.

 

"You're dreaming, Captain."

 

"Don't be so sure, Christine."

 

"I'm not going to get my hopes up."

 

"Look, even if he doesn't do it during this leave, you know he wouldn't lead you to expect to bond with him if he had no intention of following through on it."

 

"I know his intentions are honorable.  But even the best of intentions might not keep him from

 

...changing his mind."

 

"That's simply not possible.  You know he has to bond with someone eventually, and there's no other woman he ever really considered letting himself love."

 

Christine, having no argument ready for that, fell silent for a time.  "It's just that...the longer he puts it off, the less certain I am about...where I stand with him," she revealed faintly, at last.

 

Hesitantly, Kirk knelt beside her, squeezing the hand he had held.  "Don't let it worry you. Remember how long it took him just to ask you to bond with him?"

 

"Yes.  I just hope I don't have to wait that long for the actual bonding."

 

As Kirk was about to say something else, Anna re-entered the room.  "Jimmy, I've just spoken to the loveliest and most gracious young lady, and she wants to talk to you," she announced.

 

"Me?"  Kirk repeated doubtfully, wondering who it could be.  To his mother, a "young lady" could be anyone from a teenager to a young-looking woman her own age.  "Did she give her name?"

 

"No, she just asked to speak to you.  And when I told her you were busy and asked if you could call her back, she said it was too important to wait," Anna elaborated carefully.  "She was the soul of politeness, but very insistent—seemed to be somewhat upset, too."

 

Kirk and Christine exchanged confused looks and Kirk stood up before giving Anna his full attention.  "What did she look like, Mom?" he asked, then.

 

"Let me see....silver-goldish hair, a round face and the bluest blue eyes I've ever seen in my life...and I'm sure she couldn't have been out of her fifties.  Do you know her, Jim?"

 

"Hmm..." Kirk started for the door. "...just a hunch, but that sounds like it could be Amanda."

 

"Who?" Anna questioned.

 

"Amanda, Mom—Spock’s mother.  I've mentioned her before," Kirk reminded her patiently, as he stepped through the door.  "Something must have happened—I never expected to hear from him this soon."

 

"Oh, my."  Anna looked at him in dismay.  "If she's Spock's mother, then you should know...I think she was crying."

 

Kirk nodded understandingly, hurrying down the entryway and around the corner to the comm terminal, sitting down quickly and de-activating the "hold" button.  Amanda appeared on screen, and it was immediately apparent that she was still trying to hold back tears.  "I'm here, Amanda.  Tell me what's happened," he urged, making his voice as soothing as possible.

 

"Oh, Captain, it's been one giant disaster and the biggest mistake I ever made.  Not only will not one of my sister Elizabeth's guests have anything to do with Spock—that’s all my other sister's family—they’ve threatened to spend Christmas elsewhere rather than be around him," Amanda lamented.  "The only other ones besides Elizabeth who've been civil to him are Spock's cousin Jonathan and Jonathan's daughter."

 

"Have either of you considered just letting the trouble-making arm of the family leave and spending Christmas with Elizabeth and Jonathan?" Kirk asked.

 

Amanda shook her head in negation.  "I suggested as much to Spock, but it's clearly not an option.  He'd feel too guilty to enjoy himself, even with the others gone."

 

"He always has had a tendency to blame himself for things, even when they're not his fault," Kirk recalled regretfully.

 

"He won't stay here another minute, and I can't blame him—I can't, either," Amanda continued unhappily.  "We're getting ready to leave for the shuttleport right now--Spock wants to catch the first available shuttle out."

 

"Where is he?"

 

"Upstairs getting us packed; he'll be down in a minute to talk to you.  He wants to ask you something."

 

"All right.  Are you going to be at the main shuttleport in Des Moines, or—?"

 

"I'm sure Spock will want to go to the shuttleport nearest you."

 

"That'd be Riverside, but it's a little shuttleport so far off the main route that he'd have to change shuttles on the way.  It'll be faster for him to go to the main shuttleport."

 

"All right, he'll call you from our shuttleport to let you know which one," Amanda asserted.

 

"Great."

 

Amanda looked at something off-screen.  "Here's Spock now," she told Kirk, quickly moving out of the way as Spock sat down.

 

If Amanda's appearance had been disturbing, Spock's was downright heart-breaking.  There was no longer any physical evidence of last night's tears, but the whole ordeal of his last two days of turmoil leapt from the dark eyes as he looked at Kirk, belying his otherwise controlled manner. "Jim...has Mother explained the situation to you?"

 

"Yes, Spock.  So you're leaving tonight?"

 

Spock nodded.  "I know it is late, and it will be well past midnight when I arrive...but I cannot stay here any longer, and I have nowhere else to go except back to the ship," he explained apologetically, his eyes pleading for understanding.

 

"It's all right, Spock—just let me know which shuttleport you'll be arriving at and at what time, and I'll be there to meet you," Kirk promised gently.

 

He heard Amanda's voice from off-screen.  "He says you'll get there faster if you take a shuttle to Des Moines," she supplied.

 

Spock nodded at her once in acknowledgement before turning back to Kirk.  "I will try to get to Des Moines, then, if at all possible, and I will contact you from the Philadelphia shuttleport with more exact information," he asserted quietly.

 

"Good enough.  Your mother said there was something you wanted to ask me?" Kirk prompted.

 

"Yes..." Spock hesitated for a long moment before plunging ahead.  "...would it be permissible for Mother to come, also?  She has nowhere to go, either...and she is willing to stay at a hotel, if the sleeping arrangements are difficult."

 

"No hotel's going to take her in at that hour of the night—and besides, she's already made a favorable impression on Mom," Kirk pointed out kindly.  "You bring her along.  We'll find a place for her here—I don't think Mom will object.  She wanted a lot of house-guests, remember?"

 

Spock nodded again, gratefully.  "Thank you, Jim.  I will contact you again as soon as I can... and I will see you in a few hours."

 

"Be sure you bundle up—the temperature here is supposed to get down into the low 'teens tonight," Kirk admonished finally.

 

"I will.  Goodbye, Jim."

 

"'Bye, Spock."  When Kirk cut off the frequency and turned around, he was not surprised to find Christine peeking around the corner at him from the entryway.  "I assume you heard all that."

 

Christine nodded, obviously still considering what she'd heard.

 

"I also assume you're coming with me to meet Spock."

 

This time, Christine was not so quick to respond.  "Actually, Captain, I'm thinking somebody ought to stay here with your mother.  It sounds like to me Spock's going to want a little time alone with you."

 

"There's no need for you to play martyr, Christine...I'm sure Spock's just as anxious to see you as he is to see me," Kirk told her patiently.  "Besides, Amanda's going to be with him—and you know she'll want to see you."

 

Amanda had met Christine formally when Spock finally asked her to marry him, just after the V'ger mission.  "I'll see them when they get here.  I really don't think your mother should be left alone here at this time of night."

 

"Oh, she's been alone at night before—she’ll be fine," Kirk assured her.  "Come on, Christine. Spock'll be disappointed if you're not there, too," he pleaded.

 

"I doubt that.  He didn't even mention me, you'll notice."

 

"He just had a lot on his mind.  Don't think for a minute that that means he doesn't want to see you at the shuttleport," Kirk countered finally.  "Come on—I’ll need somebody to talk to on the way."

 

"Oh...all right," she gave in finally.

 

"Good, that's settled.  You stay here and wait for him to call back, and I'll go tell Mom what's going on."  Kirk got up then and headed back to the living room while Christine went to sit down in his place.

 

 

 

V

 

 

 

Spock closed the frequency and stood up.  "I will go get our bags, Mother.  You get your coat."

 

"You can go ahead and pack it—I think I'll wear my new cape," Amanda decided.

 

"Very well."  Spock grabbed her coat out of the closet as he passed by and took it back upstairs with him to pack.

 

"I'll drive you," Elizabeth offered, glancing over at her son.  "You may as well come with us, Jon, and bring Cathy."

 

"Thank you, Elizabeth," Amanda replied ruefully, as Jonathan went to get his and Catherine's coats out of the closet.  "I'm sorry we have to do this..."

 

"It's not your fault, Amanda.  If I'd had any idea that Annabelle and her brood were going to act like this, I would have warned you before you came."

 

"Well, there's nothing we can do about it now, except give Spock and Aunt Mandy the chance to have a decent Christmas somewhere else," Jonathan put in, pulling on his coat and helping Catherine with hers.

 

"And what about you two?" Amanda asked worriedly.  "I assume they'll be back once they know we're gone."

 

"I think we can handle them.  Presumably they'll settle down once they no longer have anyone to complain about," Elizabeth opined wearily.  "Although if they do start complaining about you two, or anything else, I reserve the right to wish we'd gone with you."

 

"I'll go along with that," Jonathan chimed in feelingly.

 

Amanda couldn't help smiling at that.  "Be my guest.  If I didn't know it would be too much of an imposition on Captain Kirk's mother, I'd invite you," she responded sincerely.

 

At that moment, Spock came back downstairs with the bags and handed Amanda her cape as he moved to get his own coat out of the closet.  "Are you ready to go?" he asked.

 

Amanda nodded.  "Elizabeth's taking us," she informed him.

 

"Better get your coat, Mom," Jonathan told her.

 

"Oh, yes..." Elizabeth hurried over to the closet door and got out her coat and cap.  Spock, who was still standing nearby, moved quickly to help her put on her coat.  "Thank you, Spock.  Now, Jon, you go make sure the sidewalk is clear of snow, and we'll be off."

 

Thirty minutes later, they were at the shuttleport and Spock was making arrangements for the shuttle.  Afterwards, he sought out the nearest personal comm terminal and again contacted the Kirk residence, reacting with some slight surprise when Christine answered.  "We've been waiting for your call.  I stayed at the comm terminal so Captain Kirk could spend some time with his mother," she explained.

 

Spock nodded understandingly, getting straight to the point: "You may tell him that my shuttle leaves in forty-five minutes for Des Moines and should arrive at approximately 0200."

 

“I'll tell him," Christine promised.

 

"Very well..." Spock hesitated.  He had a lot of time on his hands at the moment, and it was pleasant to see and hear her again.  "Christine...will you be with Jim at the shuttleport?" he asked.

 

"Yes, Spock, I'll be there," Christine assured him softly, simultaneously touched and relieved. Kirk had been right; it was clear from the hopeful expression in the Vulcan's eyes that he wanted her to be there to meet him, too.

 

"Are you...tolerating each other's company well enough?" he asked, then.

 

"It was a little awkward at first, but once we got used to each other, it was all right.  We haven't spent much time together since before the V'ger mission, you know," Christine reminded him.

 

"I know.  But it is important to me that you and Jim enjoy each other's company; I do not wish you to lose the rapport you established while I was on Vulcan," Spock pointed out earnestly.  "My bond-brother and my future bond-mate should be friends."

 

"Agreed," Christine returned quietly.  "Speaking of which, however, your 'future bond-mate' is beginning to wonder just how far into the future you were planning—"

 

"I have not yet decided," Spock interrupted uneasily.  "Let us at least postpone any such discussion until we can conduct it in person."

 

"All right, Spock," Christine acceded slowly.  It could wait, at least until Spock got used to being in the Kirk home; for now, she contented herself with his desire for her presence at the shuttleport.

 

"What is Jim's mother like?" Spock asked curiously, then, quickly changing the subject.

 

"She seems very nice.  Certainly she's gone out of her way to make both of us feel welcome," Christine responded readily.

 

Spock lowered his eyes, almost afraid to inquire further, but deciding his need for reassurance was greater than his apprehension regarding the possible answer.  "Do you think she would...welcome me?"

 

"Spock, she's been expecting you from the outset.  The first thing she said to Captain Kirk after we got here was to ask him where you were," Christine assured him, alarmed that it would even occur to him to ask such a question.

 

He nodded slowly in acknowledgement, looking back up at her, though it was not clear to him that this supposed eagerness for his presence would remain after Kirk's mother actually met him. "I must...go say goodbye to my aunt and cousins, now," he finished.  "Goodbye, Christine.  I will see you in two hours, forty minutes."

 

"Goodbye, Spock."

 

Spock then came out of the comm terminal booth and went to rejoin Amanda, Elizabeth, Jonathan and Catherine, though he was no longer in any mood for conversation.  Since it was still over half an hour before their shuttle was due to leave for Des Moines, Spock decided to take advantage of the shuttleport's relative quiet and try to meditate; Amanda saw what he was doing, herded the others far enough away not to bother him, and they talked softly among themselves while Spock attempted to settle into the required mental state.

 

Finally, an intercom announced that it was time to board the shuttle.  Spock, who had already stopped trying to meditate by then, said his final goodbyes to Elizabeth's family—allowing her to give him a kiss on the cheek (which caused him to blush a faint green) and Jonathan to give him a hug.  Then Catherine attached herself to Spock's leg and refused to let go.

 

As Jonathan started to pull her away, he thought he heard a muffled sound coming from her direction; he reached to turn her face around.  "Catherine?" he questioned doubtfully, certain he had imagined it.

 

She met her father's gaze as he knelt beside her and said, softly but clearly, "Spock."

 

Jonathan exchanged shocked looks with his mother and Amanda, noting also Spock's raised eyebrow, before turning back to his child.  "Cathy—!"

 

She looked up at Spock, now.  "Spock.  Stay.  Here," she said, then.

 

Uncertain of how to react, Spock reached down and stroked her hair in what he hoped was a gesture of reassurance.

 

Wordlessly at first, Jonathan moved to hug her.  "Oh, Cathy, you did speak!" he declared, then, looking up at Spock appreciatively.  "Before you got here, she hadn't made a sound in seven years," he noted wonderingly.  "Don't worry, I'll explain it to her."  Abruptly, he turned back to Catherine.  "Spock's not happy here, Cathy.  We have to let him go where he can be happy over Christmas.  You wouldn't want him to stay and be unhappy, would you?"

 

Catherine shook her head slowly.

 

"Let go of him, now."

 

She complied reluctantly and Jonathan picked her up in his arms.  When her eyes met Spock's and she reached out to him, Spock did not hesitate to let her put her arms briefly around his neck—then he felt small lips brush his cheek and a small voice at his ear:  "'Bye...Spock.  You... be...happy.  I...like...you."

 

"Thank you, little one...you will never know how much that means to me," he whispered, unconsciously hugging both her and Jonathan as he returned her to her father; they both hugged him back.

 

Then, finally, Spock and Amanda picked up their bags and headed for the gate entrance. Elizabeth and Jonathan watched them through the window with Catherine, all waving, until Spock and Amanda were aboard the shuttle and the shuttle was pulling away from the landing pad.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

The trip to Des Moines took two hours—far too long for Spock's comfort.  He found sleeping impossible, meditation useless, and conversation awkward, though Amanda did her best to draw him out; eventually, she persuaded him to relax a little, curling up on the bench in their private cubicle and resting his head on her shoulder.  He still could not sleep, but with Amanda's arm around him, he could at least feel more positive, hopeful emotions as he anticipated his reception at Kirk's childhood home.  He was sure his mother would have no trouble fitting in, adept as she seemed to be with any conceivable social situation—especially since Kirk had said she had already "made a favorable impression" on his mother.  It was himself that Spock was worried about.

 

He had hoped that his perpetual outsider status would have changed by now, but two years after V'ger, he was still trying to find the right balance between his Human and Vulcan halves, and the struggle still seemed to adversely affect his relationships with others.  He was only slowly beginning to realize that it was not his efforts toward inner peace that were still alienating him from Vulcans and Humans alike, but rather the simple fact that they were still necessary—the fact that he did not and never could belong fully to either race—and that was something that even the insights gained from V'ger could not undo.

 

Still, some people understood this, still managing to accept and appreciate him as he was, and Spock was grateful that such people were still a part of his life.  Kirk and Christine would be with him, and Spock told himself that he could bear whatever emotions Kirk's mother presented to him as long as he had their support.  Once again, he tried to concentrate on thoughts of them—Kirk’s affection for him, sometimes tempered with exasperation, and Christine's patient love.  I felt your thoughts while I was still on Vulcan, Jim—even through the mental disciplines of Kolinahr.  Can you feel mine, now, only a few hundred miles away?  Do you know how much I regret not accepting your initial invitation, and how much I look forward to being with you again? he thought plaintively.

 

Faintly but certainly, he felt a response: We'll be together soon, Spock—don’t worry.

 

Spock smiled inwardly, warmed by the sudden touch of Kirk's thoughts and somehow knowing that Kirk felt the same warmth from his thoughts.  He turned again to Amanda's emotions, but found the affection and compassion she always felt for him now mixed with nearly equal parts disgust and bitterness directed toward her family.  He also sensed her remaining feelings of guilt. "It is not your fault," he told her—the first time he had spoken since they boarded the shuttle.

 

"I'm not so sure of that.  It was my idea for you to meet the rest of my family," Amanda responded ruefully, not surprised that he was aware of her thoughts.  "You said it yourself: you should have gone with Captain Kirk."

 

"But I do not hold you responsible.  Your motivations were logical," Spock reiterated.

 

"No, they were completely emotional," Amanda argued.  "I wanted you to meet them because I hoped—even expected—that they would all get along with you as well as Elizabeth and Jonathan do, even though she was the only one of them who ever fully adjusted to the idea of me marrying a Vulcan."

 

"Still, you meant well," Spock persisted softly.  "I will not permit you to blame yourself for their intolerance."

 

"No, of course not.  You'd rather take the blame yourself."

 

Spock remained silent, closing his eyes for a moment.

 

"Well, thankfully, you've only lost a couple of days, and you can still spend Christmas with the Captain."

 

"And Christine," Spock added absently.

 

"She's there with him?" Amanda questioned, startled.  This was the first she'd heard of it.

 

"Yes.  She is waiting for me, as he is...and she, too, had nowhere else to go."

 

Amanda considered this new information while Spock again tried futilely to sleep.  He realized he was still too full of remaining tension to do so, and the intermittent, short-lived periods of meditation that he managed to achieve were not sufficient to overcome that tension.  He opened his eyes again, resigning himself to waiting out the trip.  Soon, now, he would be with Jim and Christine, and finally, he would be able to relax enough to sleep.

 

At last, the shuttle reached Des Moines, and Spock was in such a hurry to leave that Amanda had to remind him to take his bag.  It was 0200, exactly on schedule, and the terminal building of the shuttleport was nearly deserted.  When Spock and Amanda came out of the exit gate and into the reception area, Kirk and Christine were readily visible, Christine still sitting back at the edge of the seating area; however, it was Kirk—who immediately stood up and watched the Vulcan's approach anxiously—upon whom Spock first focused his attention.

 

Sensing his friend's lingering inner turmoil, Kirk held out his arms as Spock nearly ran toward him.  What surprised and instantly worried Kirk was not Spock's apparent eagerness for his offered physical contact, but the Vulcan's equally (and still unusually, even after V'ger) eager response as soon as he was close enough—throwing his arms around his Captain and hugging him as if he were afraid they might be torn from each other forever.  Just as Kirk was tightening his embrace in an effort to comfort him, Spock pulled back in embarrassment, looking at the Human with a shamed expression on his face before lowering his eyes.  "Forgive me," he murmured.  "I know it has only been two days, but..." he trailed off uncomfortably, unable to explain or defend himself further.

 

"It's all right, Spock; I missed you, too," Kirk told him understandingly, not moving closer but still holding his arms out to the Vulcan.

 

Spock moved back toward him, this time more hesitantly, again slipping his arms around Kirk –now that he was sure his Captain was not embarrassed or offended by his overly-enthusiastic emotional display—and holding him securely, but more gently than before.

 

Kirk held him just as carefully, gradually pulling the dark head down to rest on his shoulder. "Hey, it's all right...you're with me, now.  We're going to be together all through Christmas," he assured Spock soothingly.  For a while, they simply stood there holding onto each other in the empty reception area as Amanda came to join them.  She watched them for a moment, communicating silently with Kirk in response to the increasingly alarmed, questioning expression in his eyes, then moved quietly past him to greet Christine.

 

Kirk and Spock finally parted as Amanda approached them again, this time with Christine in tow.  Spock spoke first.  "Jim, do you think...your mother would object to me?"

 

Heartsick at the uncertainty in his friend's voice—and in the dark eyes that searched his—Kirk reached impulsively to squeeze Spock's hand.  "No, of course not," he responded kindly.  "And you'll be just in time to help us decorate the tree—we just got it up yesterday."

 

Spock's expression seemed to brighten a little at Kirk's reassurance.  Almost smiling, he turned finally to greet Christine, reaching cautiously to take her hands in his.  "I am here, Christine," he announced unnecessarily.

 

"Did you miss me, too?" she asked doubtfully.

 

Spock nodded.  "Both of you.  I much prefer being with those who...enjoy my company enough to invite me to participate in their Christmas celebrations...and enough to be so disturbed by my delay or refusal," he admitted slowly.

 

Wordlessly, Christine came forward and slipped her arms around him; Spock permitted her embrace, but was considerably more uncertain about responding to her than he had been with Kirk.  "I'm glad you're finally here," she told him softly, at length.

 

Spock responded at last, his arms moving around her awkwardly.  "I could not stay away," he explained simply.  "Especially when I realized I could not spend Christmas elsewhere."   The Vulcan looked back at Kirk, who was now chatting animatedly with Amanda, as he and Christine released each other.  "Can we go now, Jim?" he requested, almost pleadingly.

 

Kirk turned to grin at him.  "Getting impatient to see where I grew up?" he guessed.

 

"It is late.  I merely wish to get some sleep," Spock returned neutrally.

 

"We should get going," Amanda agreed frankly.  "Neither of us have had any sleep, and Spock didn't sleep too well last night, either."

 

"All right," Kirk acceded understandingly, still looking at Spock.  “Get your bags, you two, and let's go."

 

It was no longer snowing outside, but it was still very cold and the snow lay deep enough on the ground that Spock would have been concerned about getting it inside his boots if they had been likely to have to stay out in it very long.  Fortunately, Kirk had been able to park close to the door and it was a short trip to the aircar, despite the fact that snow had again covered the parking lot since his and Christine's arrival.  After tossing Spock's and Amanda's bags into the storage compartment, Amanda got into the back seat with Christine and Spock got into the front with Kirk.

 

Kirk then started up the aircar and made sure the heat was up high enough to keep Spock from being too cold before leaving the shuttleport.

 

The trip back to the Kirk farm was spent mostly in silence as Spock's and Amanda's natural curiosity about their destination was overcome by tiredness.  A half hour after their departure from the Des Moines shuttleport, Amanda was asleep; Spock was still trying to sleep, but changing positions every few minutes or so, unable to find one that seemed comfortable enough—presently,  he was curled up against the seat-back with his head lolling awkwardly across its top.  Kirk, having watched his efforts in increasingly worried silence, gently suggested that Spock lie down on the seat and rest his head in his Captain's lap.  Spock was naturally reluctant, but once he was convinced that doing so would give him more room and not interfere with Kirk's operation of the aircar, the Human managed at last to coax him into the appropriate position.

 

Soon, Spock was curled up on his side with his head in Kirk's lap.  For whatever reason, he found that sleep came easily now and drifted off as he felt his friend's arm settle around him.  After a time, Christine peeked over the top of the seat-back at them.  "Is he asleep?" she asked, whispering.

 

Kirk glanced back at her briefly, nodding.  "Finally," he whispered back.  

 

"Amanda, too."

 

"I figured as much.  They must be exhausted."

 

Christine sat back then and silence again descended, remaining until they reached the Kirk farm.  Once the aircar was parked, Christine roused Amanda enough to get her out of the aircar, while Kirk tried to do the same with Spock; seeing that Christine was going to reach the front door first, he tossed her the key and continued trying to help Spock out of the car.  By the time he reached the front door, Christine had already managed to get Amanda into the bed in the guest room and now came back to help Kirk, informing him that Anna had already gone to bed.  Together, they managed to get Spock up the stairs to the room he would share with Kirk and the previously-unoccupied spare bed, then Kirk went back downstairs and out to the aircar to get Spock's and Amanda's bags.

 

Once back inside, Kirk gave Amanda's bag to Christine and took Spock's upstairs to his room, setting it down at the end of Spock's bed.  Rather than trying to get the Vulcan into his pajamas, Kirk simply removed his outer clothing—boots, coat, scarf, gloves and sweater (leaving him in his other clothes and socks)—and pulled up the covers over him before putting his own pajamas on.

 

Then Kirk slipped on his robe and left briefly, checking around the house to make sure all the lights were turned off.  Finally, he went back upstairs, checked to see that Spock was still sleeping soundly, and went to bed, himself.  Tomorrow, he would introduce Spock (and Amanda) to his mother—something he had wanted to do for years—and then, hopefully, Spock would help them put up the Christmas decorations, something they had not wound up having time to do this evening.  It was going to be a wonderful holiday, now...even if McCoy didn't show up.

 

 

 

VI

 

 

 

Kirk woke up the next morning to find Spock sitting beside him on the edge of his bed, apparently waiting for him to open his eyes.  "What time is it?" Kirk asked sleepily, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

 

"Approximately 1000," Spock replied.  Then he added, by way of explanation, "I thought it best not to go downstairs until...you could go with me and introduce me to your mother."

 

Kirk couldn't help being slightly amused by his friend's typical shyness.  "You could have introduced yourself, you know," he pointed out patiently.

 

Spock lowered his eyes.  "I did not think that would be advisable," he returned uneasily.  "I had thought to shower and change clothes while I was waiting for you to awaken, but Christine is still using the bathroom."

 

"How long has she been in there?" Kirk asked.

 

"Thirty-three minutes, twenty-nine seconds."

 

"Well, she's probably taking a good, soaking bath," Kirk speculated, smiling involuntarily.  "We don't get to do that on the ship, you know."

 

"I know," Spock asserted.  "But I trust she does not intend to spend all morning in the tub."

 

Kirk drew his knees up against him and rested his folded arms on top of them.  "In the mean time, while you're waiting for her to get out...want to talk about what happened with your family in Philadelphia?"

 

Spock glanced up at him briefly and then looked away.  "There is little to say, except what Mother must have already told you," he replied reluctantly.  "My Aunt Annabelle's family behaved most irrationally toward me and simply refused to stay for Christmas while I was there.  It seemed best for me to leave, and Mother could not stay, knowing their attitude toward me."

 

"I don't understand—what have they got against you?" Kirk asked, puzzled.

 

"Most of Mother's family never wanted her to marry Sarek.  As I understand it, she had several...suitors, all unsuccessful until Sarek...and her family's position was that she had no need to marry an off-worlder," Spock explained faintly.  "Mother had hoped they had come to accept her choice enough to accept me, but...obviously, they have not.  I am...not part of their family."  Spock turned finally back to Kirk.  "That is why I was waiting for you.  You must introduce me to your mother, Jim; I do not wish to risk...offending anyone else."

 

"All right, don't worry," Kirk acceded understandingly.  "I'll introduce you—and Mom's been dying to meet you."

 

"I trust that that is an exaggeration."

 

As Kirk was about to explain that he hadn't meant it literally, Christine stuck her head through their bathroom door.  "I'm all through in here.  Whoever's next, come on in," she announced.

 

As she closed the door, Spock got up and hurried over to the end of his own bed, opened up his bag and picked out some fresh clothes before heading for the bathroom.

 

"Hey, Spock, are you going to take a shower or a bath?" Kirk called after him curiously.  "I'd like to know how much time I'm going to have to get dressed."  He had showered last night before going to meet Spock and Amanda.

 

"Considering how late it is, I think a shower would be preferable," Spock responded.

 

"Then I'll hurry," Kirk returned, just as Spock stepped into the bathroom.

 

Twenty minutes later, Spock had emerged from the bathroom and he and Kirk were both dressed—Kirk in a rust-colored sweater and matching slacks and Spock in a black turtle-neck sweater and matching leggings, with his customary knee-high boots; Kirk settled for heavy slipper-socks.  While Spock brushed his hair, Kirk went next door to see if Christine were dressed.  When she answered the door, Kirk could see that she was similarly attired, and it was apparent that she, too, was in the middle of fixing her hair.  At a suggestion from Kirk, she decided to wear it partially-pulled-back and down in back—which would take only a few minutes longer than her usual all-pulled-pack style and be considerably more attractive.

 

When they went to Kirk's room, Spock was just stepping through the door, and the three of them trooped down the stairs together.  They found Amanda sitting in the dining room, talking with Anna as they sat at the table.  Anna turned her airchair toward them as they entered, moving it forward to meet Kirk as he approached first.  "A little late getting up and around, aren't you, Jim?" she questioned.

 

"I got to bed pretty late last night," Kirk reminded her easily.  "Besides, I'm on leave.  It's nice to have the chance to sleep in."

 

Anna nodded understandingly, seeming to accept this.  "All right, then, where's this wonderful friend of yours?"

 

Kirk turned around, motioning to Spock—who had purposely hung far back with Christine—to  come forward and join him; Spock complied hesitantly, watching Anna warily from behind his mask of Vulcan emotional control.  "This is my mother, Anna Marie Kirk," Kirk told him, turning back to her then.  "Mom... this is Spock," he concluded simply.

 

For a moment, Spock and Anna studied each other uncertainly in silence, Anna waiting for Spock to speak and Spock too apprehensive, at first, to do so.  "Mrs. Kirk," he greeted her faintly, at last.

 

"Come closer, Spock," Anna instructed.

 

With a sidelong glance at Kirk—which the latter responded to by urging the Vulcan forward with his eyes—Spock took a few cautious steps toward her.

 

She then motioned for him to lean down to kneel next to her, since there wasn't a chair close enough and she wanted to be eye-to-eye with him; Spock knelt slowly, his expression still neutral, except for a growing anxiety within his dark eyes that made him look to Anna almost as if he expected her to strike him.  "I'm so happy to finally meet you, Spock—my son's told me so much about you, I feel as if I've known you for years," she told him kindly.  "Please don't be afraid—you’re among friends here, and I was hoping you'd come."

 

Spock lowered his eyes, feeling himself blush deeply and not wanting her to see the sudden greenish tint that he knew was spreading across his face.  Presumably, his mother had told Anna about the terrible treatment he'd received from his own Human relatives, and she was trying to make up for it...yet he heard nothing that sounded like pity in Anna's voice, and when the woman reached to cover his hands with hers, he sensed the sincerity of her emotions.  She wanted him here, and at least for now, she accepted him as he was—as Jim did.  “I am...pleased to be here, Mrs. Kirk," he managed to say softly.

 

Anna squeezed his hands reassuringly.  "You call me 'Anna', now—everybody else does. ‘Mrs. Kirk' was my mother-in-law, and she passed on years ago," she admonished, still in the same gentle tone.

 

"Lots of luck, Mom.  It took me two years at Starfleet Academy to get him to call me anything less formal than 'Mr. Kirk', and longer than that after I took over command of the Enterprise to get him to call me anything but 'Captain' on a regular basis," Kirk put in dryly.

 

This brought a quickly-stifled laugh from Christine, at which point Spock finally looked up again, glancing back at Kirk.  "You are exaggerating in both instances, Jim," he chided patiently, almost smiling at his friend's attempt at humor and knowing the exaggeration had been intentional.

 

"I'll take your word for it; you're the one with the infallible memory and time sense," Kirk conceded, grinning.

 

Spock turned back to Anna.  "I also appreciate your letting Mother stay here with us," he told her gratefully.

 

"Oh, think nothing of it.  It's nice to have someone like her to talk to, and I know we're going to get along famously," Anna assured him.  "I didn't realize when I first spoke to her that she was so close to my own age.  She's been telling me about you, and I'm sure I've been boring her silly with stories about Jim."  Amanda was around eighty, herself.

 

"Nonsense," Amanda interjected reassuringly.  "I've enjoyed hearing her stories about Captain Kirk."

 

Spock was sufficiently intrigued to ignore the fact that his mother was probably discussing things about him that he would have rather she not discuss; he kept his attention on Anna—on the eyes and hair that were so much like those of his bond-brother.  "What kind of stories?" he asked curiously.

 

"Stories from way back—mainly when Jim was growing up," Anna replied, turning back to him in ill-concealed amusement.

 

"May I hear them sometime?" Spock requested hopefully, not noticing her amusement.

 

"Later, Spock," she promised.  "Right now, I want you all to eat some breakfast."  Anna patted his hands encouragingly as she released them.  "Jim's told me you like cinnamon toast, so I made some for you this morning—go on into the kitchen and get it."

 

"Come on, Spock—I’ll show you where the kitchen is," Kirk added, reaching down to squeeze his friend's shoulder.

 

Spock had never noticed his Captain coming up to join him.  He got up and followed Kirk and Christine off almost eagerly to the kitchen, leaving the two older women alone again.

 

When they had finished off the cinnamon toast, Kirk herded the others off to the living room with instructions to help him with the decorations; Amanda and Anna followed more slowly.  By time they joined Kirk and his friends, Spock and Christine were examining the decorations in their box as Kirk stood nearby, trying to decide where to put the first ornaments on the tree (someone, probably Amanda, had already put on the lights).  "Well, we may as well start with the tree decorations," he decided.  "You two hand me the ornaments, and I'll put them on the tree."

 

Christine immediately began taking ornaments out of the box and handing them up to Kirk, but Spock was considerably more reluctant, searching for the least fragile-looking ornaments before reaching finally to pick one up.  "Aren't they pretty, Spock?  Most of them are homemade," Christine commented.

 

"Yes..." Spock had selected a glittery, silver ball with green ribbons around it and now handed it up to Kirk, trying to hold it carefully by wrapping his fingers around it.

 

Kirk reached for it eagerly, recognizing it immediately.  "Oh, yes...I was about five years old when Mom made—" He stopped abruptly at the sound of crunching metal, realizing that Spock had unwittingly crushed it in his hand.

 

For Spock, it was a nightmare come true.  He stared at the pieces of the ornament in his hand, feeling humiliated and wondering how to apologize to Kirk.

 

"Dammit, Spock, that was an heirloom!  Do you realize how long we've—how long we had that ornament?" Kirk demanded angrily.

 

"I know, Jim.  I am sorry," Spock replied meekly, keeping his eyes lowered.  "I was only... trying not to drop it."

 

"Spock, haven't you ever helped decorate a Christmas tree before?" Christine asked, puzzled by his clumsiness.

 

Spock shook his head silently.

 

"McCoy and I always invited him to help putting up the decorations for the Bridge crew's Christmas party on the Enterprise, but he always refused," Kirk recalled dryly.

 

"Perhaps I should have refused this time, too," Spock suggested quietly.

 

With some effort, Kirk forced aside his anger and disgust and tried to sound encouraging. "No, never mind—don’t worry.  After all, that's only one ornament down; we've got 'em by the boxload here," he returned, bitterness creeping back into his voice in spite of anything he could do.

 

It seemed pointless to try to respond directly, so Spock didn't even try.  "What should I do with this?" he asked, instead.

 

Kirk just glared at the bowed head for a moment.  "This is not a good time to give me an opening like that," he retorted shortly.  "You're lucky Bones isn't here—he’d tell you exactly what to do with it."  He glanced at Christine briefly.  "Show him where the trash bin is, Christine."

 

"All right. Come on, Spock."

 

Kirk watched them get up and leave the room, then turned back to the tree, hoping to get a few more ornaments hung—and calm himself down—before Spock returned.

 

Spock and Christine passed by Anna and Amanda on their way out, and by unspoken mutual consent, Anna went after them while Amanda focused her attention on Kirk.  As she watched him, it became clear that he was aware he had been too harsh with Spock and was trying to work out a more appropriate response in his own mind, so pointing out what was already obvious to him seemed the wrong approach.  At length, she wandered close enough to talk to him without raising her voice.  "We weren't at my sister's house very long, but Spock loved the tree.  He spent almost the whole time sitting beside it and looking at the ornaments—but he never touched a single one," she remarked cautiously.  "He probably thought something like this would happen."

 

Kirk paused in the act of picking up another ornament from the box, studying it silently for a time as he stood up.  "He's like that on the ship, too—never touches the decorations, but seems to enjoy looking at them," he reflected reluctantly, looking up at her finally.  "He's not usually this clumsy, though; I guess he's just...nervous.  He's so worried about being accepted here and having everything go right that he's just...trying too hard."

 

"If you're perceptive enough to understand that, Captain, you ought to tell Spock.  I'm sure he's just going to take this as proof that he has no business trying to celebrate Christmas," Amanda chided him patiently.

 

"I know.  And I will.  It's just...so many of these ornaments are homemade and have so many memories attached to them," Kirk tried to explain, not knowing who he was more frustrated with—Spock or himself.  "It's not as if I can run downtown and buy replacements for them."

 

"That's true," Amanda conceded understandingly.  "But isn't your friendship with Spock just as rare and precious?  Even if he is 'trying too hard' to fit in here, at least he's trying—something he hasn't always been so willing to do.  Why else would it be so important to him that your mother like him?"

 

As Kirk was still considering this and hanging ornaments on the tree, Spock and Christine were in the kitchen again, Christine looking on as Spock dropped he pieces of the metal ornament into the trash bin.  After he had wiped his hands of the smallest visible shards of metal, Christine reached for his hands.  "You didn't cut yourself anywhere, did you?" she asked worriedly.

 

"Not that I know of," Spock replied listlessly, not resisting as she held his hands palms-up and examined them intently.

 

"I may as well be sure," Christine decided, when a visual examination yielded no results. "You stay here while I go get my medikit," she instructed.

 

Spock watched her go and saw Anna watching him from just inside the doorway.  His face immediately colored green in shame and he averted his eyes as she moved her airchair closer. "I...destroyed one of your ornaments," he murmured apologetically.  "I...I did not mean to."

 

"I know that," she returned kindly.  "It's all right, Spock—I’m just glad you don't seem to have hurt yourself."

 

"Jim does not seem concerned about that possibility.  He is furious with me," Spock noted, clearly chastened and depressed, despite his controlled voice.

 

"He'll get over it," Anna assured him gently.

 

Spock was given no chance to respond, for just then, Christine walked back in with her medikit, taking out her medscanner as she approached him.  "All right, let's see those hands again," she instructed.

 

Spock held them out silently, remaining silent as she ran the medscanner over his palms.

 

"No—nothing,” she concluded finally, returning the medscanner to her medikit.  "Well, let's go finish trimming the tree."

 

Spock followed her reluctantly back into the living room, where they found that Kirk had managed to hang a number of ornaments on the tree while they were gone.  Amanda was now helping him, but she quickly stepped aside as they approached.  "Good, you two can take over for me here, and I can start putting up some of the other decorations," she decided, moving to open up another box.

 

Spock and Christine again sat down beside the tree ornament box as Kirk finally turned toward them, Spock once again seeking out the ornaments he was least likely to destroy before venturing to pick one up.  "Okay, Christine, hand me that little red ornament in the corner," Kirk directed.

 

Christine obeyed, reaching into the corner compartment and pulling out the requested ornament.

 

Kirk took it from her and hung it on a branch toward the top of the tree.  "Now then, Spock—you hand me that silver-and-gold angel."

 

Spock quickly located the ornament and reached hesitantly to pick it up—this time holding it in his open hands as he handed it up to Kirk, who smiled involuntarily as he took it.

 

"See?  Nothing to it..." Christine handed him another one without being asked, then Kirk—reassured by his friend's success with the last ornament—asked Spock to hand him another one. "Let's have that stupid-looking one with the stars all over it—Mom’ll have a fit if I don't put it up somewhere."

 

      It was another metal ornament, however, and Spock immediately protested.  "I do not think I should—“

 

"Come on, Spock—you did fine with the last one.  Just hold it by the hanger and give it to me," Kirk urged patiently.

 

Spock attempted to comply, but the hanger's hook was considerably smaller than the width of his finger, and he was uncertain enough in his efforts that he found himself unable to balance the hook on his finger long enough to hand it up to Kirk so that Kirk could reach it from where he now was.

 

As he got up on his knees in an effort to reach further toward Kirk, he overbalanced just as he was passing the star sequin-covered ball ornament over the bricked section of the floor before the fireplace—the only part of the floor that wasn't carpeted—and the ornament dropped off his finger, shattering on the brick surface.

 

Spock glanced up at Kirk apprehensively, hoping almost desperately that this had not been another ornament of great emotional value to his Human friend; it had seemed haphazardly decorated, with randomly-placed strips of ribbon and star sequins...

 

Kirk sighed, trying to keep from losing his temper again, and shook his head in growing impatience.  "Spock...God, what's wrong with you today?  I've never seen you this butter-fingered before!"

 

Spock moved silently to pick up the broken pieces of the ornament, knowing there was no logical reason for his sudden clumsiness—no reason but his own uneasy emotional state.  To add to his humiliation, Anna came over and asked which ornament had been broken.  When Kirk seemed unwilling to answer, Spock spoke up reluctantly.  "It was...a gold ball ornament with blue and red star sequins and blue ribbon, stuck on in no discernible pattern or order..."

 

He immediately regretted his last words, for Anna abruptly whirled the airchair around with a soft moan and moved as quickly as possible out of the room.

 

Though Spock kept his eyes averted from Kirk as he continued to gather up the pieces of the ornament, it was obvious that he felt deeply ashamed of his ineptitude.  Still, Kirk felt obligated to explain his mother's reaction.  "Oh, Spock—why’d you have to pick that ornament to break?  It's just a silly-looking ball ornament to us, but Mom remembers it as the first one I ever decorated, and to her, it was always beautiful."

 

Spock closed his eyes for a moment, opened them again, and stood up, carrying the ornament pieces in one hand.  "I think perhaps it is best if you and Christine finish decorating the tree by yourself," he opined finally.  "If you expect to retain any of your handmade decorations, I had better remove myself from these activities before I...break them all."  With that, he headed for the door.

 

"Spock, wait!" Kirk called after him—only to be ignored.  Amanda, having finished decorating the rest of the room, had gone after Anna, so Kirk and Christine were left alone again.

 

"I don't think I've ever seen him so obviously uncomfortable," Christine observed worriedly.

 

"I have a feeling he was even more uncomfortable in Philadelphia," Kirk returned worriedly. "He's usually a little ill at ease trying to celebrate Christmas, but...I guess after what happened at his aunt's house, he feels more pressured to try to fit in, this time," Kirk theorized, basically repeating what he'd told Amanda earlier.

 

"So what do we do?" Christine asked, knowing Kirk was more familiar with Spock's psyche than she was.

 

"Give him some time alone while we finish putting up the ornaments, then I'll go see if I can talk him into helping us with the tinsel garlands, icicles and stuff," Kirk suggested.

 

"Do you think he'll want to?"

 

"Well, none of those things are breakable--or homemade," Kirk pointed out hopefully.  "Once he realizes I'm not going to make an issue out of him breaking a couple of ornaments—even if they were irreplaceable—maybe he'll feel better."

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

But Spock had retreated to the room he shared with Kirk in order to meditate, and it became evident to Kirk by the time lunch was ready that Spock was not coming back down unless his Captain went up to get him.  When he finally did, Spock showed no interest in either lunch or trying to help with any more decorations—even though Kirk assured him that there was no way he could damage any of the remaining decorations; instead, he abruptly announced to Kirk that he was going for a walk.

 

"There's a foot of snow on the ground!" Kirk protested immediately.

 

"Have you yourself not seen to it that I have all manner of protective clothing to wear in the snow?" Spock challenged softly.  "I will not go far.  My meditation was...not sufficient.  I need to be alone for a time...to decide whether or not I should continue attempting to participate in your Christmas celebration—this one or any other."

 

"Spock—it was just two ornaments," Kirk reiterated soothingly.

 

"Ornaments that were important to you and your mother—homemade ornaments," Spock reminded him dejectedly, refusing his Human friend's offer of comfort.

 

"Still, it's nothing to get into a philosophical quandary over—and certainly nothing worth ruining your own holiday over," Kirk persisted gently.

 

"I am not entirely certain that it is 'my' holiday," Spock argued, meeting Kirk's eyes entreatingly.  "Please, Jim...I need to do this."

 

"There's no other way?"

 

"Not this time."

 

Kirk was still reluctant to permit it.  "Let me go with you, then—I don't think you should go out there alone."

 

Spock shook his head determinedly in refusal.

 

"Even if I don't talk?"

 

Spock shook his head again.  "Even your presence would make it difficult for me to concentrate."

 

"Oh."  Kirk knew that his presence usually had just the opposite effect on Spock—but he realized that, this time, he was perceived as part of the problem.  "All right—but you have to promise not to go far or stay out too long.  You don't know the area well enough, and you don't have any business exposing yourself to that kind of cold for very long at a time, anyway."

 

"Very well, Jim—I promise."

 

With the matter presumably settled, Spock changed into his snow boots and followed Kirk back downstairs; Kirk made sure the Vulcan bundled up as much as possible before following him to the door, opening it and shivering as the cold air hit him.  It was not snowing now, but the snow was still deep, and he didn't like the look of the clouds.  "Spock, are you sure—?”

 

Spock ignored him, shouldering past and slipping out onto the porch, continuing after a moment down the porch steps and into the snow.

 

Kirk closed the door reluctantly, turning around to find a worried Christine and Amanda watching him in alarm.  "What's Spock doing outside?" Christine asked anxiously.

 

"He wanted to go for a walk to think things over," Kirk explained, making it clear that he wasn't any happier about it than she was.

 

"In the snow?" Christine questioned doubtfully.

 

"I know what you're both thinking, but he promised he wouldn't stay out long," Kirk tried to reassure them.  "He didn't want lunch and he didn't want to do any more decorating...and he couldn't or wouldn't talk to me about what was bothering him, so I didn't know what else to do for him."

 

Christine and Amanda exchanged still-doubtful looks.

 

"He'll be all right—I’ll go look for him myself if he's not back after lunch," Kirk assured them. "For now, come on—I’m hungry."

 

 

 

VII

 

 

 

Though Spock was peripherally aware of the temperature—which he estimated to be around 20 degrees—he paid little attention to the cold biting through his scarf and gloves; his mind was elsewhere, reflecting on the apparent futility of it all.  He had joined his Human friends' Christmas celebrations in the past without wreaking such havoc, but Spock reasoned now that that might have been because he had never permitted himself involvement beyond a certain point—until now. He had often been curious as to what would constitute too much involvement, and now he knew: putting up Christmas decorations was, for him, going too far.  He vowed to return to his previous policy of leaving that to the Humans—this time with no deviations from that policy—if, in fact, he decided to continue participating at all.

 

First my Human relatives, now my friends.  I seem to have become most expert at ruining Christmas celebrations, Spock reflected dismally.  In fact, his whole life seemed to have been one long series of disappointments for everyone he had ever considered himself close to; he had disappointed Sarek by being unable to remain invulnerable to his own Human emotions, his mother by not being expressive enough of them, Christine by his unwillingness to accept her emotions for him, McCoy by...he supposed, being too Vulcan...and Kirk by still not understanding enough about his Human half to be the kind of friend and companion he wanted to be to his Captain.

 

Now he had disappointed Kirk, Christine and Amanda again—by destroying Kirk's Christmas ornaments, vacillating over his bonding with Christine, and ruining Amanda's family Christmas plans.  Spock had learned a new appreciation for his Human friends and his own Human half from V'ger, only to find that he still retained the same ability as before to endanger those friendships with the social and emotional ineptitude regarding Human customs that still occasionally manifested itself in him.  Growing ever more depressed, Spock unknowingly loosened his scarf around his neck as he slogged awkwardly through the snow, not noticing when he just as unknowingly stepped on the end of it and pulled it off.

 

Atypically losing his time sense as he wandered further and further from the house, Spock became vaguely aware that he should go back, though the reasons seemed unclear and unimportant.  He felt the breeze pick up along with the wind chill and looked around, abruptly noticing his surroundings for the first time and realizing he had wandered out of visual range of the Kirk house; he had never expected (or intended) to go so far.  And having paid no attention to what direction he was going, he had no idea where he was or how to get back.  Spock looked around for any discernible landmarks, but saw only snow and the occasional bare tree—even his own footprints had faded into the snow as new snowfall rapidly filled them up—and he was not familiar enough with the area to even guess which way to go to get back. The simple fact was that he was lost.

 

Spock decided there was nothing more to do but keep moving and looking for something that would guide him back, or at least tell him where he was—keep moving or freeze to death in this increasingly bitter cold.  He walked until his limbs were too numb to move, then plopped down gracelessly in the snow, resting his back against a tree and waiting; whether he waited for someone to find him or simply to die, Spock himself could not have said.  It was snowing steadily now, the wind seeming to fuel the snowfall as both increased, and Spock could see little before or around him but white—snow and grayish-white sky.  He took off his gloves to breathe what he hoped was warm air on his hands, only to find that they were too numb to fell it, not bothering to put the gloves back on, though he did shove his hands into his coat pockets.

 

It did not seem to matter.  Even if Jim found him, it would probably be too late.  Spock decided to take advantage of their bond, though he was uncertain now if Kirk's mind even remained open to him—and if it did, what emotions he would be likely to find there.  As Spock watched the snowflakes whirling through the air about him, he began to wonder if his efforts to contact Kirk’s mind might not be futile.  Perhaps Jim would be better off without him; perhaps they all would.  Jim and McCoy would be best friends without him to monopolize the Captain's attention, his mother would no longer have to concern herself with the conflicts of divided loyalties caused by having to serve as a living buffer zone between a husband and son who could never quite see eye-to-eye, and Christine would be free to find someone worthy of her love to marry.

 

Spock pulled his knees up against him and rested his bowed head against them, closing his eyes.  He could no longer feel his hands or feet, and he could feel the numbness spreading through him—soon, he would not be able to move at all.  Hypothermia...frost-bite…Spock had never heard of a Vulcan surviving either after this long a period of exposure.  At least, it seemed long now, just sitting here and waiting to succumb.  So ends a life that should never have been—I  have only managed to cause pain for everyone who has ever felt for me, he thought, and the thought was permeated with sadness, guilt, and resignation.  I would give anything to undo it all...to never have been born...but at least I will cause no more pain to anyone, now.  He reached out one last time to Kirk’s mind.  Thank you for trying to be my friend, Jim...and farewell, my t'hy'la...

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

By the time lunch was over, nearly forty minutes had passed; Kirk had already decided to go looking for Spock, and Christine went with him, since it was possible that Spock would need some kind of immediate medical attention (though she was uncertain of what she could do without bringing him back inside and out of the cold first).  As they were getting ready to go and pulling their coats, scarves and gloves on, Anna came into the entryway with news gleaned from the latest weather reports that a blizzard was coming and due sometime that afternoon; Kirk quickly instructed Amanda to stay with her, promising the former that he would not come back without Spock, then he and Christine hurried out of the house.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

They took the aircar and had managed to search about three-fourths of the Kirk property when it began to snow heavily.  "How could he have gotten so far on foot in the snow?" Christine questioned incredulously, knowing Spock was as unaccustomed to walking through the snow as he was to this cold weather.

 

"I don't know, but it looks like he may have somehow wandered off the farm and into the open countryside," Kirk observed worriedly, as they stood outside the car and looked around.  "If that's happened, he's probably good and lost by now."

 

They had been following footprints at first, but the footprints had disappeared into the snow some time ago, leaving Kirk and Christine with no option but to continue going in the same general direction—despite having no guarantee that Spock had kept going that way.  "What about your mental bond with him?  Can't you 'feel' where he is or which way he might have gone?" Christine asked, in growing desperation.

 

"I already thought of that—it’s no good," Kirk replied frustratedly.  "I thought I might have felt something a while back—just a vague sort of sadness, as if he were...but it didn't last long enough for me to tell where it was coming from.  Since then—nothing.”  

 

"Which may mean that he got a lot further from the farm than you suspect," Christine concluded hesitantly.

 

"Or he's unconscious," Kirk added, with even more reluctance.  "Of course...Spock was the only one of us who ever mastered the trick of using our bond to locate the other."  He turned determinedly back to the aircar.  "Come on, Christine—let’s keep looking."  He had stopped short of describing in any detail what he had felt from Spock's mind, and with good reason; Kirk had had the distinct impression of his friend calling out to him—but with finality, rather than any conscious intent to convey his location, a degree of finality that alarmed Kirk.   It was as if Spock were surrendering—just sort of letting go of everything.  Kirk had tried to respond mentally and convey reassurance, but the faint awareness of Spock's mental presence had immediately faded out, and there was nothing left to respond to.  "We've got to find him," Kirk declared then, with new urgency.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Spock was no longer aware of the snow piling up on and around him or the cold whipping through his hair and his half-open coat; he was in some netherworld stranger than any alien planet he had ever visited, neither dead nor alive—a white limbo.  Slowly, he became aware that the source of the whiteness was a light.  It dimmed abruptly to a tolerable level, and a figure stepped out of it—Spock could just make out the Humanoid appearance of its face and hands, which were all that was so far visible, since the figure seemed to be draped in the same surrounding whiteness and light.

 

Then it moved closer, seeming to float, and Spock recognized the face immediately, despite the fact that the wavy, dark, shoulder-length hair seemed to float around its head rather than hang straight down or be fastened in back.  "Christine?" he called out softly.

 

"No, Spock—not Christine.  But I have taken her form so that you might more easily accept me for what I am," it replied cryptically.

 

Confused, Spock tried to ignore the fact that it spoke with Christine's voice, as well.  "Then, who—what—are you?" he asked warily.

 

It was then that he noticed the wings peeking out from behind the figure's shoulders and arms.  "Humans call my kind 'angels'.  You may call me by the name of the one whose form I have taken...if you wish," it replied, by way of explanation.

 

"I do not—“

 

"—Believe in angels.  I know.  But you believe in Christine.  Concentrate on my image of her, not my existence as an angel."

 

Spock tried to comply—trying also to recall everything he had ever read or heard about "her kind".  "Angels appear to Humans who are dead or dying," he remembered, then.  "Is that why you are here?"

 

"Not exactly.  I am here to grant your wish—to show you what life would have been like for your loved ones if you had never been born," the angel revealed.

 

"Unnecessary.  I already know it would be better for them," Spock stated flatly.

 

"Then you should be gratified to be shown proof," the angel returned archly.  "If you still believe your non-existence will benefit them after you see them, you will be allowed to die.  For now—as of this moment, Spock of Vulcan and Earth, you were never born, and those whose lives were now never touched by you will be unaware of either of us.  Whose life would you view first?"

 

Strangely, Spock found that the illogic of the situation meant nothing to him, now; he was conscious only of an all-consuming curiosity within him.  “Mother's," he heard himself say.  "Then Sarek's."

 

"So be it."

 

In a flash, the whiteness was replaced by more corporeal-seeming surroundings—a  classroom, from the number of desks and tables arranged in neat rows.  As they moved closer, they could see a large desk at the front of the room with a computer monitor positioned in one corner and an electronic notepad lying in the middle.  Someone whose face Spock could not yet see hunched over the notepad, fully absorbed in their work.  When the person lifted her head to study the monitor, Spock could see that it was Amanda.  "Mother?" he questioned, before remembering that she would not be able to hear him.  He looked back at the angel.  "She still teaches English and Earth history?"

 

"She returned to teaching...after the annulment of her marriage to Sarek," the angel supplied.

 

"'Annulment'?" Spock repeated disbelievingly.

 

The angel nodded once.  "When she proved unable to bear children to a Vulcan, Sarek was pressured by the clan elders into annulling their marriage and choosing another wife so that the Clan of Surak would be perpetuated."

 

As Spock was still digesting this information, another woman entered the nearly-empty classroom and crossed quickly to Amanda's desk; he recognized her, also.  "Aunt Elizabeth?"

 

"You mother lives with her, now," the angel explained.

 

"Oh."

 

Just then, Elizabeth spoke.  "I thought I'd find you in here, Amanda.  What are you doing?"

 

"Just wanted to finish grading some of these exams," Amanda returned, before looking up at her.  "You know, most of the kids did very well this semester—"

 

"Come on, Mandy," Elizabeth interrupted, with some exasperation.  "Do the words 'Christmas vacation' mean anything to you?  You can finish all this after the holidays.  Right now, you're holding up dinner—Greg and Annie are waiting, and so are Jon and Megan."

 

"Who is Megan?" Spock asked the angel.

 

"Jonathan's wife," the angle informed him.  "He never met Catherine, because he never joined Starfleet—you were never around to give him the idea by joining Starfleet yourself.  And he and Megan are childless."

 

Spock returned his attention to Amanda as she spoke again.  "All right, just let me finish this one up, then we'll go," she decided.  

 

He caught sight of her hands then and realized she was not wearing an engagement or wedding ring.  "She has not remarried," he observed.

 

"No," the angel confirmed.

 

"But so many men were interested in her before she married Sarek," Spock recalled.

 

"And by the time of her annulment, most of them had already married other women. Amanda never fell in love again; she had to put Sarek out of her mind, but she never removed him from her heart," the angel added.  "She has nothing now, except her teaching."

 

"Her family is with her for Christmas—all of them—as they could not be when she returned with me," Spock pointed out hopefully, watching as his mother finally turned off the computer and pushed the notepad aside before getting up.

 

"She reconciled with them after she moved back to Earth...but there is still a distance between her and them, much like the one that you have known between yourself and Sarek," the angel elaborated.  "They don't understand the emptiness in her heart, or why she's had no interest in courtship since the annulment."

 

"It must have...hurt her deeply," Spock reflected darkly, as he watched Amanda and Elizabeth leave the room.  "Sarek—even without me to come between them, he still manages to put clan responsibility before the emotional well-being of his own wife."

 

      "Yes.  But he has suffered for that decision, too.  Come, I will show you."

 

In seconds, the classroom was gone, and Spock found himself in a walled and stone-paved courtyard.  "Where are we?" he asked, in puzzlement.

 

"Sarek's home on Vulcan.  Of course, it looks very different, now; Amanda's garden was dug up and re-planted or paved over after she left Vulcan—and that's not the only change you'll find." As they moved through the largely barren courtyard to the terrace steps, Spock thought how cold and lifeless it looked—all the colors were gone.  Even the pastel shadings of the paving stones that Amanda had selected were gone, apparently replaced by the more usual grayish marble-like paving stones.  In fact, the whole courtyard looked gray.  They moved up the terrace steps, across the terrace and through the door that opened before them, down the hallway and into the parlor.  There on the sofa sat a Vulcan woman, talking to a child who lay beside her on the sofa as she diapered him—Spock could just make out her words: "Your father will be home soon, Selkk...you must be dressed and ready to meet him."

 

"Who is she?" Spock asked, though he suspected he already knew.

 

"Sarek's new wife, T'Liash, and their first child, conceived during his last pon farr—he is two Vulcan years old, now," the angel replied.

 

"So Sarek finally has the full-blooded Vulcan son he always wanted," Spock concluded.

 

"Yes, and his place in the Clan of Surak is secure—but at a cost."

 

Just then, they heard the outside door open (having closed behind them), and Sarek entered the parlor just as T'Liash finished dressing Selkk; she picked him up in her arms and went to meet Sarek.  "You are late again, my husband," she commented, as their fingers touched.

 

"I have told you before not to expect me until later in the evening, since I am never certain how much last-minute work I will have to do at the Academy," Sarek reminded her tolerantly.  "I trust you did not ruin my dinner again by starting it too early."

 

T'Liash lowered her eyes.  "I only did that once, Sarek—during the first month of our marriage—and I do not understand what purpose it serves to continually remind me of it," she returned quietly.  "I was waiting for you to arrive home before I started dinner.  But that does mean it may be an hour or more before we eat."

 

"That will be acceptable.  In the meantime, I will take Selkk."  

 

T'Liash handed the child to him silently, then went to the kitchen.  Sarek shifted Selkk in his arms and headed out of the parlor to his study.

 

"Where is this 'cost' you speak of?" Spock demanded, as they followed him.  "Sarek seems no different to me, and he has his Vulcan wife and Vulcan son.  What more does he need?"

 

"T'Liash is a good wife, but she will always be in Amanda's shadow.  Sarek is harsh with her because he misses your mother and blames himself for forcing her to leave—he bonded with T'Liash only because his clan insisted that he produce an heir, just as he annulled his marriage with Amanda for the same reason," the angel explained.  "But there is no emotional bond between them.  It is with them as it was with you and T'Pring; they are merely fulfilling duties.  Sarek's life is as empty as Amanda's, now.  He's worked late almost every night since she left, not wanting to face the house that hasn't been a home since then, and T'Liash resents Amanda's continued influence over him.  He gave up his position as Ambassador to the Federation when she left, also."

 

But it was difficult for Spock to work up any sympathy for Sarek as he watched the older Vulcan holding Selkk in his lap, then setting the child before him on the edge of his desk—watched  also Selkk's response; the child did not play or laugh like a Human child, but his eyes followed Sarek's attentively in apparent fascination.  "He never interacted with me in this manner.  He has already formed a parental bond with this child," Spock noted, with a touch of envy.  "He never bonded with me."

 

"He made many mistakes with you, but he also learned from you, as well as from your mother," the angel pointed out.  "He loved her, Spock; unfortunately, he never realized it until after she was gone and he had no spirit left to defy the wishes of the clan elders.  Selkk, as an innocent, is the only meaningful thing in his life, and since you were never born, he never made the mistakes he would have made with a half-Human son.  Would you deny him that?"

 

"He denied me the few things I ever wanted from him," Spock retorted coolly.  "His life is different now, but I do not find it to be worse—for him.  Mother is 'suffering' worse than he is."

 

"Yes, she is," the angel admitted.  "But Sarek's situation is a matter of perspective.  Your memory of his refusal to understand you is coloring your perception of his pain.  You will have to be content to accept my word that you have only seen the superficial aspects of his life and that his pain, too, is real."

 

"Very well..." Spock studied Sarek more closely, trying to pay more attention to his father's facial expression and body language, but the latter seemed to be centering all his concentration on Selkk.  If he were still grieving over his loss of Amanda, he had mastered it so well that there was no visible sign of it, even when he was essentially alone.  Was he, perhaps, in denial?  Spock had never heard of a full-blooded Vulcan experiencing such an emotional state, but it would explain much—including the angel's claim that all was not as it seemed with Sarek.  In any case, Spock realized he was tired of dwelling on the matter.  "Let us go elsewhere, Christine.  I have seen enough here," he told the angel finally, addressing her as she had asked him to.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Kirk and Christine were gradually widening their search perimeter and were now beyond the property lines of Kirk's family farm.  Both were becoming frustrated and increasingly anxious; if Spock had gone this far, he was certainly lost by now—and if he had been forced to sit down, he could be covered with snow.  He could also be dead.  They stopped the aircar often and searched as much land as possible on foot—then Christine saw something lying in the snow.

 

She hurried over to it and picked it up, shaking the snow off of it and examining it more closely.  It was a blue and gray scarf.  She looked around for Kirk, calling out when she spotted him.  "Captain, I found something!"  

 

Kirk moved as fast as he could through the snow toward her. She showed the scarf to him as soon as he was at her side.  

 

"Isn't this Spock's?"

 

Kirk nodded, reaching to take it from her.  "Fool Vulcan—what could he be thinking of, just leaving it behind like this?" he demanded rhetorically.

 

"In this blizzard, he may not be 'thinking' at all," Christine pointed out, still having to raise her voice to be heard over the wind.

 

"Yeah, I know.  All right, I'll keep going this way—you follow in the aircar."

 

"Are you sure?  I won't be able to go very fast."

 

"I'm not going to take the chance of losing track of the aircar, and one of us needs to be on foot.  You go get the aircar and I'll wait here."  He folded up the scarf and tucked it inside his coat as Christine headed back through the snow toward the aircar.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

"Where shall we go next?" the angel asked patiently.

 

"Perhaps...to see Christine—the real Christine," Spock replied thoughtfully.  “I am curious to see who she married."

 

Immediately, their surroundings faded, to be replaced by what he recognized as the big courtyard at Starfleet Headquarters on Earth.  "You know where you are," the angel observed.

 

Spock nodded.  "Starfleet Central Headquarters on Earth.  Is this where Christine is?"

 

In answer, the angel pointed straight ahead, to a figure approaching from the Starfleet side of the courtyard (Federation Central HQ was on the other side).  As she drew nearer, Spock could see that it was indeed Christine; she was concentrating on the load of electronic notepads in her arms, seeming unaware of her surroundings until she looked up long enough to make sure she was going in the right direction and made an abrupt turn, heading off in what Spock knew to be the direction of the Base Hospital.  Then he noticed her uniform, and the braid on her sleeve.  "She is an Admiral," he noted, without any real surprise.  He knew Christine had turned down a number of transfers and promotions over the years to stay on the Enterprise—and near him.

 

"Yes—one step away from being Surgeon General, presently his assistant and next in line. She just finished lunch and is going back to her office," the angel supplied.

 

They followed Christine back inside the Hospital and up to her office.  A receptionist in her outer office greeted her.  "Back from lunch already?"

 

"You know I don't believe in long lunch breaks, Jean.  I have too much work to do," Christine reminded her.

 

"Yeah, you've been like that ever since you were assigned here."

 

Christine ignored her, heading for her own office door.

 

"Dr. Chapel?"

 

Christine turned back impatiently.  "What now, Jean?"

 

"Could I—um—get off a little early?  I've got a kind of important date at 1730 tonight."

 

An understanding expression crossed Christine's face; she clearly recalled a time once, a long time ago, when she had been where Jean was now.  "All right.  Is 1530 early enough?"

 

"Great!" Jean got an idea.  "Hey, why don't you double with us?"

 

"No, thanks.  If this date is 'important' for the reason I think it is, the last thing you need is another couple tagging along."

 

Jean watched her go, shaking her head as she thought of the true reason for Christine's refusal.

 

"She knows that Christine hasn't been romantically involved with anyone for years—she only asked out of politeness, in the hope that the situation might have changed," the angel informed Spock.

 

"She seems to have...a full life."

 

"She keeps herself busy, Spock.  There is a difference between filling your life with work and filling it with love and friendship—you know that as well as anyone."

 

"Yes," Spock admitted slowly, still digesting and analyzing the conversation he had just witnessed.  "She has...courted no one...for 'years'?"

 

"There was no one there to take the place of Roger Korby after their relationship ended so tragically.  She has 'dated', but not seriously, and not since she left the Enterprise.  Her work is her life now, and her obsession; that is how she has come so far in Starfleet since then," the angel explained.  "She is an Admiral, soon to be Surgeon General of Starfleet, with a wall full of medals and awards in her office, and the admiration and respect of all her colleagues.  But she never married—never even gave herself the chance to be happy with another man.  No man was ever able to overcome her memories of Korby and the fear they left within her."

 

"So her life is as meaningless to her as Mother's," Spock realized.  "She always seemed...so strong to me.  I was certain she would have found someone else by now...perhaps be married and have a family.  Her...devotion to me...may have kept her from advancing within Starfleet...but at least she was content.  She had friends on the Enterprise, and she seemed to enjoy working with Dr. McCoy."

 

"She was content--with everything and everyone, including you."

 

Spock understood without really hearing her; his previous observation had started him thinking about McCoy.  Now, there was one Human who, Spock was still convinced, would do very nicely without a certain half-Vulcan in his life.  Spock knew of nothing he could have given the Doctor that McCoy couldn't have gotten more easily from Kirk.

 

 

 

VIII

 

 

 

It had now been nearly two hours since Spock had left on his "walk".  Kirk continued determinedly through the snow in the direction Christine had been going when she found Spock's scarf, as she followed some yards behind in the aircar, silently cursing himself for deciding not to take a tricorder or even a communicator with him on this leave (just as Christine had not bothered to pack any medical equipment except what was in her medikit).  Who knew they would need it? This was just supposed to be a simple, quiet Christmas spent at home with family; no camping trips or extended outings had been planned, since Kirk knew he would have to be insane or masochistic to intentionally plan to spend that much time outside in Iowa in the dead of winter.

 

He was nearly blinded by blowing snow now, but there was no thought in him of giving up and going back.  Suddenly, he spotted something else in the snow, small, blue, and half-buried—and beside it, a strangely-shaped snow drift.  He hurried through the snow toward the patches of blue, and when he picked them up and shook the snow off of them, they turned out to be Spock's gloves.  He turned around and waved at Christine, who stopped the aircar and jumped out, nearly running over to him with her medikit.  Kirk showed her the gloves, and they looked at each other despairingly for a moment before Kirk began looking around again.  "He's got to be close by, Christine.  I can't believe he would get much further in this cold without his scarf or gloves," he opined, tucking the gloves inside his coat with the scarf.

 

"Then where is he?" Christine demanded.

 

Kirk abruptly tripped over something in the snow, and his eyes were drawn once again to the irregularly-shaped snow drift—through which another odd patch of blue now showed.  "Maybe... buried in the snow, where we wouldn't see him," he replied desperately, now on his knees next to the snow drift and beginning to dig through it with his gloved hands.  "Come on, help me!" he urged, glancing back over his shoulder at Christine; she had already knelt to comply, realizing what he must suspect.

 

In moments, they struck more blue, and Kirk now recognized the material instantly as that of the coat he himself had helped Spock pick out some years ago.  Instinctively, they dug faster, until Spock's head, shoulders and chest were exposed.  His coat was still partially open, and the hood had fallen open as it filled with snow, which now surrounded Spock's head, ears and neck.  Snow had also covered the rest of his coat, and the exposed portion of his sweater.  "Dear God...let's get the rest of him out of the snow!" Kirk directed anxiously.

 

In seconds, they had exposed his legs and feet.  He was lying on his side in the snow, having fallen over from his previous fetal position against the tree when he lost consciousness. Christine took out her medscanner and ran it over him while Kirk focused on his grayish-purple face.  "His vital signs are so low they don't register.  He seems to be alive, but I don't know for how much longer," she told Kirk then, putting back the medscanner and pulling out a hypo.  "I'm going to give him some masiform-D, though in his condition, it may not start working until we get him out of this snow."

 

Kirk turned back to her, nodding acknowledgement.  "Bring the aircar as close as you can so we don't have to carry him too far, and I'll try to get all this snow off him."

 

"Right."  Christine pushed the coat and sweater sleeves up Spock's nearest arm and gave him the injection before pulling his sleeves back down again and turning to go.

 

Immediately, Kirk began scooping snow out of Spock's coat-hood, moving on when it was empty to brushing as much snow as possible off the Vulcan's face and the rest of his clothing. Then he took out the scarf, which was by now warm, and tied it around Spock's head and ears before putting up his hood again.  He then pried Spock's hands out of his pockets and took out the partially-warmed-up gloves, pulling them up over his friend's stiff fingers and hands, fastening Spock's coat securely.  Finally, he checked his First Officer's boots for snow and found that, while there was no actual snow in them, some had melted down from his leggings and soaked his socks, which was just about as bad.

 

Christine returned just as he was lifting the Vulcan into a sitting position.  "You're going to need help carrying him through this snow," she pointed out.

 

"I know."

 

They formed a chair by locking one set of arms around Spock's back and the other under his legs, lifting him up and slowly beginning to carry him toward the aircar.

 

"If we can all squeeze into the front seat, we might be able to warm him up faster," Kirk suggested, as they neared the car door on the passenger side.

 

"It's worth a try," Christine agreed.  "Want me to drive?"

 

"Unless you think you can get Spock into the car by yourself."

 

"I'll drive," Christine decided, waiting until Spock's weight was fully shifted to Kirk's arms before going around to the other side of the aircar and getting inside.

 

Kirk, meanwhile, awkwardly maneuvered Spock into the car behind him as he got in, winding up with Spock sitting in his lap, moving close to Christine and sliding Spock carefully into place between them.  As soon as she started the car and set the auto-pilot for the Kirk house, they both snuggled close against Spock, who now sat between them with his still-rigid legs draped across Kirk's lap and both Kirk's arms around him as his head rested on his Captain's shoulder.  Christine was forced to divide her attention between the aircar controls and Spock, concentrating on rubbing his gloved hands in an effort to stimulate circulation and warm him up.  She encouraged Kirk to do likewise with the Vulcan's exposed face and soaked feet as Kirk reached to turn up the heat in the aircar.

 

Kirk took off his gloves and lay a warm hand against Spock's cheek, then began to massage both it and the other cheek.  "Come on, Spock—come on, now..." he said softly.  Then he removed Spock's boots and wet socks, taking off his own scarf and using it to vigorously rub Spock's bare feet, after which he wrapped it around them until they were completely covered and bound together.  He glanced finally over at Christine.  "Shouldn't he have responded to the masiform-D by now?"

 

"Not necessarily.  If he hasn't started responding by the time we get him settled into bed, though, I may give him another small dose."

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

At last, they reached the house.  Kirk carried Spock to the door as Christine hurried ahead and opened it for him.  Amanda met Kirk as soon as he stepped inside, her eyes fastening on Spock's face in horror.  "Captain, is he—?"

 

"Unconscious," Kirk supplied, cutting her off.  "I'll fill you in later.  Right now, we don't have time to waste discussing it."  He hurried upstairs with Christine right behind him and carried Spock to their room, setting the Vulcan on his own bed.  "You get his clothes changed and I'll get some extra blankets," he instructed Christine, getting up to leave again.  "By the way, that includes his underclothes.  His socks were soaked, so they probably are, too."  Not waiting to hear her response, he rushed back downstairs.  "Blankets, Mom—we need lots of blankets.  An electric one, if you have it," he told her urgently.

 

"I do.  They're all in the linen closet," Anna asserted.

 

"Show me where, Anna—I’ll get them out," Amanda offered.

 

"Come with me, then."

 

They disappeared around the corner into the hallway, and Amanda emerged on the run a few minutes later with a stack of four blankets of varying colors and thicknesses in her arms.  "The top one's electric," she told Kirk, as she handed them to him.  "Do you think this is enough?"

 

"We'll find out shortly." Kirk met her eyes.  "I want you to stay down here with Mom, Amanda. I'll keep you updated on Spock's condition, but right now, there's nothing you can do for him."

 

"But he is going to be all right, isn't he?" Amanda asked anxiously.  

 

She was seeking assurances that Kirk could not yet confidently give.  "I hope so.  But he was out there for a pretty long time," he answered evasively.

 

Amanda looked resigned as Kirk turned and headed back upstairs.

 

Christine had Spock in his pajamas and tucked into bed when Kirk arrived.  Quickly, she helped him spread out the extra blankets over Spock's bed covers, putting the electric one on last and turning it on, setting the heat at the highest setting.  "I think we better change, too," Christine advised finally.

 

"I was just thinking that, myself," Kirk agreed, as she got up and headed for the bathroom door.  Once she had disappeared through it, Kirk hastily changed out of his own slightly wet clothes and went to sit beside Spock on the bed.  Christine had already towel-dried the Vulcan's hair, so Kirk reached out with one hand to smooth it down before moving the same hand to feel the Vulcan's cheek again; it was still ice-cold.

 

Christine emerged from the bathroom in dry clothes, picked up her medikit from the end of the bed and went to sit down on the other side of Spock, taking out the medscanner and running it over him again.  "His temperature's still too low.  I think I better wait 'til he warms up a little before I give him another stimulant," she decided.  "I can only guess how long he's been unconscious, but from these readings, it would half to have been half an hour, at least—probably longer."

 

"What about frostbite?  He's not going to use the use of his legs, is he?" Kirk asked worriedly.

 

"I don't think so, judging from the color of his feet and ankles, but there's no way to tell for sure until he regains consciousness and tries to move them."  She met Kirk's gaze gravely.  "I can't make any promises as to what's going to happen to him, Captain.  All I know is that Vulcans tend not to survive exposure to sub-freezing temperatures for the length of time that Spock was out there.  We better hope that his Human half will influence his physiology for once, because he may not have much of a chance, otherwise."

 

Kirk shook his head sadly as he returned his attention to Spock's face.  "I can't believe that he let this happen to himself because he broke some ornaments.  I wasn't that hard on him, was I?"

 

"No," Christine assured him quietly.  "Has he talked to you in any detail about how his family treated him in Philadelphia?"

 

"Not really 'in detail', but enough so for me to know that he was pretty deeply hurt when he left," Kirk recalled, thinking of their conversation  earlier that day.  "I don’t guess I realized how important it really was to him not to make any mistakes that could be misinterpreted while he was here.  I keep forgetting his self-confidence does tend to bottom out during Christmas—that’s one reason he always used to try to avoid us until it was over."

 

"Well...Dr. McCoy's the psychology expert, not me," Christine ventured cautiously, reaching to feel Spock's pulse at his neck.  "But I know it's not uncommon for Humans to get depressed during the holidays.  Maybe Spock's just Human enough to be susceptible to that type of depression."

 

"Apparently so," Kirk concluded, sighing.  Then he added softly, "Still...we don't usually take our holiday depression to the point of being suicidal unless our lives are already falling apart. Spock's is just the opposite—he’s just begun to learn how to live in these last years since V'ger. How could this...lack of self-confidence...become so severe so quickly that he'd want to throw all that away?"

 

Christine turned to look at him sharply.  "Surely you don't believe that he intentionally got himself lost!" she protested.

 

"I don't want to believe it, but I can't get the idea out of my mind—especially when he promised not to be gone long, then went out and did just the opposite," Kirk admitted, meeting her eyes painfully.

 

"Oh, he was just preoccupied and wasn't paying any attention to the time or where he was going; Spock does that sometimes, you know," Christine pointed out reassuringly, removing her hand finally from the side of Spock's neck.

 

"If that's all it is, then why did he pull off his scarf and gloves?  That suggests to me that he was trying to freeze himself to death," Kirk argued.  "Why else would he risk exposing himself like that?"

 

Christine shrugged.  "Accidents.  I don't think he realized he was doing it—just the cold affecting his mind."

 

"I hope you're right," Kirk returned quietly, looking back at Spock again and remembering his Vulcan friend's last mental emanations with continued concern.  "Is there anything else we can do for him?"

 

"Not right now," Christine replied regretfully, still watching Kirk sympathetically.  "Although, I suppose...a little praying wouldn't hurt."

 

Kirk considered this.  He couldn't remember really, seriously, reverently praying for anything important since he was a child.  But Spock was important; maybe it was time to try again.  Without preamble, he reached across Spock's chest to join hands with Christine, and she—having half-expected such a gesture—accepted his touch without comment, squeezing his hand as they both focused their thoughts on Spock, each of their free hands holding one of the Vulcan's.  Then, Kirk spoke: "Please, God, help Spock to come back to us.  Help him realize that that we'll always love him and want him with us—no matter what he thinks he's done wrong—even at Christmas. Especially at Christmas..."

 

Kirk's half-whispered prayer was unknowingly united with similar prayers sent up from elsewhere in the house.  Amanda had finally stopped pacing and sat down in the living room, praying silently.  God, please send Spock back to us.  He has so much to live for, now, and people who love him more than he realizes. Please let him come back and be with us for Christmas. Don't take him now, after he's just begun to find himself...

 

And Anna, surreptitiously following Spock's mother around in her airchair and keeping an eye on Amanda, prayed her own prayer: I only just met Spock... but I know him. He's a good man, a gentle man...and so dear to Jim. Please return him to us, God, and to the life he shares with Jim and Christine.  Help him realize that the ornaments he broke are nothing compared to the friendship he gives to Jim, and that neither of us meant to hurt him with our reaction.  God, please don't let him crucify himself over something we did...

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

"McCoy...let me see McCoy," Spock requested of the angel, now.

 

Again, their surroundings faded, and Spock found himself in a completely unfamiliar setting. They were in a large, fenced-in yard with trees scattered around and a few people here and there, most of whom seemed to be in robes and slippers.  The angel led Spock through the yard and inside the building beyond.  

 

"What is this place?" Spock asked, as they proceeded through hallways and up stairs, past desks and offices of people who looked like medical personnel of some kind.

 

"Starfleet Branch Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia.  This wing houses the Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Ward," the angel told him, with sudden somberness.

 

Spock assumed they were here because McCoy was on the Hospital staff.  Then they entered a numbered room and beheld a lonely figure in a gray robe, sitting on the edge of the bed and looking out a big window next to it, resting his folded arms on the sill.  Spock could not see the face, but he recognized the voice instantly when the figure began talking to himself: "Magnolias in bloom...so beautiful.  I wish...I could go home.  I wish..." Inexplicably, he began to laugh.  "Ah, what's the point?  First thing I'd do is fix myself a mint julep."  His laugher dissolved into tears as he buried his head in his arms.

 

Spock turned to the angel in disbelief.  "McCoy is a patient here?"

 

She nodded once.

 

"But why?  What has happened to him?"

 

The angel paused.  "Do you remember the salt vampire that disguised itself as Nancy Crater?"

 

"Yes.  It nearly killed Jim before the Doctor would accept that it was not what he thought it was," Spock recalled.

 

"This time, you were not there to help convince him, and when it came to his cabin as Nancy, it nearly killed him before he realized it wasn't her.  With neither you nor Jim Kirk to turn to, he dealt with the loss of her by drinking," the angel elaborated.  "Soon it was beyond his control.  He was forced to resign his commission on the Enterprise and transferred here.  He was treated and released three times in the first four years, only to be re-committed; the last time was four years ago, and when he returned, he agreed it should be permanent.  He had already lost his wife and daughter through divorce, and with Nancy gone, too, it became easier to drown his sorrows than reach out to someone else for help.  So this is how it ends for him—no family, no friends, just life in a rehabilitation ward."

 

Spock moved closer to McCoy, whose face was still hidden in his arms, reaching out involuntarily and wishing he could touch the Human.  Then he realized that even that would be pointless; McCoy wouldn't know him.  "He just...stays here, with no hope of recovery?"

 

"There was hope once, before his mind was so damaged by the nearly-constant drinking... but not now, not when he can't even leave the Hospital without starting the cycle again."

 

"I never meant for this to happen...I was certain he would be better off..." In the midst of his regret, something else the angel had said registered with Spock, and he whirled toward her.  "But now can he have no friends?  Where has Jim been all this time?  Was he not with McCoy when the salt vampire was killed?" he demanded, in growing anxiety.  He was certain Jim would take in McCoy himself rather than leave him to languish in a rehab ward.

 

The angel looked at him with such a Christine-like expression of compassion that Spock could barely stand to meet her gaze.  "No, Spock.  He was not there...and he cannot be here now," she revealed sadly.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

By the next morning, Spock's temperature had gone from being too low to allow consciousness to a fever state high enough for him to be delirious, and Kirk was nearly as agitated by the sudden change as his Vulcan friend seemed to be.  "This is a normal Vulcan reaction to hypothermia, Captain—it’s how their bodies re-adjust to a normal temperature," Christine tried to reassure him.  “It'll fluctuate for several hours, and his temperature may vary as much as three degrees from one reading to the next...but it's a normal part of his recovery, so I don't dare give him any medication yet.  Just keep him from moving around too much and make sure the covers stay on him."

 

Kirk complied, not leaving Spock's side all that day.  When Spock grew restless in his delirium, he restrained the Vulcan beneath the covers by throwing his arms over Spock's chest and holding him in place as gently as possible, mopped down his friend's atypically sweaty face, and tried to soothe Spock with his voice while Christine occasionally ran messages between Kirk and Amanda—and made sure she and Kirk both ate—carefully monitoring the Vulcan's condition the rest of the time.

 

Toward the end of the second day after Spock's misadventure in the snow, his temperature began to level off and his delirium became increasingly sporadic, alternating with longer periods of sleep.  It was at this point that, for no reason apparent to them, Spock began to mumble Kirk's name during the wakeful, incoherent moments.  Kirk tried to respond and get the Vulcan to understand that it was him and he was there, but Spock still seemed unaware of him.

 

Finally, Kirk turned to Christine with a suggestion born as much of desperation as inspiration: "Go down and ask Mom if she has the makings for cinnamon rolls—and if not, go into town and get some of the pre-packaged dough.  I have an idea..."

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Spock was regarding the angel with increasing apprehension.  "Where is Jim?  Take me to him!" he insisted.

 

"As you wish," the angel acceded reluctantly.

 

McCoy's hospital room faded, and suddenly they were back at Starfleet Central Headquarters on Earth, in the area of the courtyard before the park entrance.

 

"You know this park," the angel pointed out.

 

Spock nodded, looking around in puzzlement.  "I have...been here a few times with Jim and McCoy...and I proposed to Christine here.  It holds pleasant memories for me," he acknowledged, searching the park.  It looked much as he had known it; the trees, open areas, hedge borders, garden and Federation Fountain were all in their previous places.  "Is Jim here?"

 

"In a manner of speaking," the angel replied cryptically.  "Have you ever known this park to have a name?"

 

"No; Jim always referred to it as 'the Base Park', or 'The Main Base Park'."

 

"Well, it has one now."

 

Spock turned to her finally with an eyebrow raised in inquiry.

 

"Come with me."

 

The angel guided him over to the side of the park entrance next to a border hedge, where a statue stood that he had not noticed before because he had been looking at what was inside the park.  It consisted of a large, cubic base about five feet square with a figure atop it and a plaque on its front face—and it was the large letters across the top of the plaque that first riveted Spock's attention as he read them in horrified disbelief:

 

 

 

JAMES T. KIRK MEMORIAL PARK

 

 

 

Too stunned initially to speak, he looked up at the marble-carved figure towering over the base and saw that it was indeed Kirk, frozen forever in a heroic pose and wearing the uniform of their earliest missions together, appearing physically as Spock had known him then.  "Jim...Jim, no," he almost whispered, turning accusingly to the angel behind him.  "Why?"

 

"He was killed by Gary Mitchell," she told him, very gently.  "He figured out on his own that he had to leave Gary on Delta Vega, but only you would have thought of ordering a phaser rifle beamed down.  You weren't there to advise him, so he trusted Dr. Dehner, and Mitchell killed them both.  Since the planet was immediately exposed to a lethal dose of radiation—on his order—when  he didn't check in, there was no way to retrieve his body.  So this is the closest thing to a tombstone there ever was for him."

 

Spock turned around slowly and silently read the rest of the plaque:

 

 

 

IN MEMORIAM:

 

JAMES TIBERIUS KIRK

 

CAPTAIN, U.S.S. ENTERPRISE

 

KILLED IN SPACE,

 

STARDATE 1312.4

 

DIED IN THE LINE OF DUTY

 

"STARFLEET'S YOUNGEST CAPTAIN"

 

 

 

"No, no..." Spock rested his head on the Kirk figure's foot as he felt tears fill his eyes.  "Not Jim, too.  I only wanted him to be happy...all of them.  But nothing is as I thought it would be."

 

"Of course not—because you didn't see what you and they already have," the angel returned softly, moving close to him as he slid down the statue's base to rest against it on his knees.  "You let one mishap make you think your world is falling apart, when in reality all you need is to listen to your friends and let them help you.  Do you really think that two broken ornaments are going to make Jim or Christine stop caring about you?"

 

Spock turned his tear-streaked face up to her, suddenly realizing what he should have realized long ago.  "Then...it is permissible for me to continue celebrating Christmas with them."

 

"Yes—and they're so eager to share it with you, Spock.  Don't deny them.  The spirit of Christmas is for everyone, all the more if a loved one offers to share the spirit and the holiday with you," the angel admonished.  "And no more of this wishing you never were.  Your life has meaning to those who are part of it, just as theirs has meaning to you."  Her voice softened again as his surroundings began to blur, again replaced by light.  In the midst of this light, Spock could see three silhouetted figures, still blurry—one prostrate and in pain.  "See how Jim and Christine care for you—he whom you call 't'hy'la' has not left your side during all your travails of body and spirit."

 

Spock regarded the figures in confusion, still unable to identify them.  “Jim...not dead?"

 

"No, Spock...not if you go back, now.  They're waiting for you...see how they worry for you?"

 

Spock tried to reach out to them, but felt trapped behind some invisible wall.  "How?" he asked helplessly.

 

"Concentrate on Jim.  He is alive...beside you...caring for you, and about you. Concentrate..." Spock tried to comply as the angel touched his shoulder—and suddenly, the silhouettes began to illuminate themselves as if from within.

 

Still disoriented, Spock felt himself floating again, this time without guidance.  He found himself still thinking of Jim...Jim was dead.  No, that was his non-life—the nightmare.  Jim was close by—he could feel it as well as see him taking form.  But there was still a barrier preventing Spock from reaching out to him.  Abruptly, he remembered the cold, the wind and the snow; he felt it, yet he was no longer in it.

 

Jim...Jim...help me come back, his mind pleaded, despite having no idea if Kirk could even perceive his thoughts while he was in this twilight state between life and death.  I do not wish to die, but I cannot free myself from...this darkness and chaos. Please, Jim... He then heard Kirk's voice without understanding his words.  Suddenly, he became aware of something else: a scent.  Warm, sweet, faintly spicy, familiar...cinnamon?  Spock tried to inhale it more deeply.  It was cinnamon!

 

 

 

IX

 

 

 

Spock's delirium had quieted as his temperature gradually leveled off, and now he seemed finally to be responding to the smell of the cinnamon roll that Kirk had been periodically passing under his nose.  Kirk did so again when he felt a tendril of thought from Spock's mind touch his—this time clearly a mental cry for help.  "Spock, Spock...I'm right here.  Just reach out," he whispered, taking his friend's hand in his.  

 

Spock's head moved to follow the scent as Kirk moved the cinnamon roll further away from his nose, and abruptly, Kirk heard him speak: "Cinnamon..." he murmured, reaching with his free hand toward the smell and slowly opening his eyes.

 

Grinning, Kirk let him take the cinnamon roll.  "See, Christine, what'd I tell you?  For Spock, these are more powerful than cordrazine—and no side-effects."

 

"I must admit I've never seen a cinnamon roll used as a stimulant before," Christine observed lightly.  "I'll have to remember that."

 

Spock momentarily forgot the cinnamon roll in his hand and looked up at Kirk uncertainly. "Jim?"

 

Kirk squeezed the Vulcan's other hand.  "Hey, Spock...you really scared me.  I was beginning to think you weren't going to wake up," he told Spock softly.

 

"Jim..." Spock pushed himself up on his elbows and made himself sit up, grabbing onto Kirk's arm for support until he could get his arms around the Human and settle himself against Kirk's shoulder.  "...oh, Jim...you are here!  Please...do not let go of me...please," Spock entreated, almost inaudibly.

 

"All right..." Puzzled but relieved, Kirk tried to soothe the trembling, obviously frightened, yet overjoyed Vulcan who now clung to him, rubbing his back and hugging him fiercely.  He knew they would have to talk about this, and whatever else had been bothering his friend, as soon as Spock recovered—but for now, it felt good just to hold Spock and know that he wasn't going to die.  "It's all right, now...I'm here...I'm here," he crooned gently, as Spock continued to hold onto him awkwardly, but with a desperation Kirk had seldom seen in him.  "Listen," he added, at length, "as long as you're going to sit up, go ahead and eat that cinnamon roll, if you're hungry.  Mom and your mother made a batch just for you."

 

Spock fell silent for a time as he began to nibble away at the cinnamon roll still in his hand, still resting his head on Kirk's shoulder as Christine ran her medscanner over the Vulcan's body.  “It is good, Jim.  I...had forgotten...how much I enjoy cinnamon rolls," Spock remarked finally, now watching Christine as she sat down next to him on the bed.

 

"How could you forget one of your favorite foods?" Kirk asked jokingly.

 

"I seem somehow to have...forgotten a great deal, lately," Spock noted softly, more to himself than to Kirk.

 

"How do you feel?" Christine asked, in concern, watching him continue to nibble away at the cinnamon roll.  "Physically, I mean."

 

"Tired.  And rather unsteady," Spock admitted slowly.  "I can still feel the cold...in my mind."

 

"No nausea, I assume, or you wouldn't be hungry."

 

Spock shook his head.

 

"Headaches?" Christine knew that both were symptoms of the illness whose Vulcan name presently eluded her—most Humans just called it "Vulcan pneumonia", and it was usually fatal in Vulcans exposed to cold, damp conditions for as long as Spock had been.

 

"No, I do not seem to be in any pain," Spock returned, uncertain at the moment if that were good or bad.  "Just...weak."

 

"I think that's to be expected," Christine told him understandingly.  "What about numbness? Your hands seem all right—do you have any feeling in your feet?"

 

Without lifting the covers, Spock concentrated on his feet as he continued to munch on his oversized cinnamon roll.  "They...feel warm," he noted hesitantly.  "Do I have socks on?"

 

Christine nodded.  "As soon as I got the rest of your clothes changed, Captain Kirk gave me a pair of extra-thick socks for you—I thought they would help you warm up faster," she explained. "Can you move your feet?" she asked then, hopefully.

 

Spock attempted to do so cautiously.  "I can wiggle my toes slightly," he reported, after a moment.

 

"Good—the Captain's foot massage in the aircar while we were bringing you back probably saved them, then."

 

Spock looked embarrassed for a moment, then surreptitiously tightened his hold on Kirk, hugging him in silent gratitude; his embarrassment faded as Kirk responded in kind, fairly radiating affection and happiness into his Vulcan friend's unshielded mind.  Spock welcomed the warmth of his Captain's emotions, for now they were food to a starving man.

 

"What about your legs?" Christine asked then, moving back a section of the blankets so she could see them.  "Let me watch while you try to move them."

 

With unexpected difficulty, Spock drew one knee up toward his chest, and then the other.  He was only able to get them about halfway up, and the effort made them throb with pain that came too suddenly for him to control.

 

Christine saw the hesitation and heard the slight intake of air that were his only noticeable reaction to the pain.  "I take it that hurt."

 

"A little.  My legs seem to be rather stiff," Spock responded carefully.

 

"Well, you were out in the snow almost two hours before we found you," Christine informed him chidingly, looking then at Kirk.  "I want him to lie down as soon as he finishes that cinnamon roll.  He needs to sleep some more.  In the mean time, I'll go down and let Amanda know he's awake."

 

But Spock took his time finishing his roll, in no hurry to do anything that would require him to move out of Kirk's arms, and Christine found herself lingering, watching and waiting.

 

Eventually, she reached out to gently stroke his hair, encouraged when it seemed to add to the soothing effect Kirk's embrace was already producing.  "I want you to stay in bed for a few days, until I'm sure you're not going to come down with some exposure-related illness," she advised, getting up, at last.  "And in case you get any ideas to the contrary, I'm officially, as of this moment, authorizing Captain Kirk to sit on you if you try to do anything more strenuous than sitting up."

 

"Then I shall certainly stay in bed.  Jim's weight would be likely to crush me," Spock assured her dryly.

 

"Oh, thanks a lot.  It's easy for you, Mr. I-can-eat-a-dozen-jumbo-cinnamon-rolls-and-not-gain-an-ounce," Kirk retorted humorously, moving a hand to playfully tousle his friend's dark hair.

 

Only Christine saw Spock's slight responding smile, and the sudden sparkle in the dark eyes that reflected Kirk's newly mischievous mood, though she was certain Kirk was aware of it, anyway. "You two behave yourselves—or when I come back up here, I'll knock your heads together, she warned them, in the same playful tone, as she turned to go.

 

Kirk couldn't help laughing softly at that.

 

After Christine left, Kirk and Spock were silent for a time as Spock closed his eyes, deciding to try to go back to sleep.  "It is all right, is it not, for me to...stay here...for a little while?" he asked uncertainly.

 

"If you can sleep that way," Kirk replied agreeably.  "Are you sure you're comfortable enough?"

 

"Yes."  Elaboration seemed unnecessary; Kirk obviously already understood how safe and cared-for Spock felt when his Human Captain and friend held him—the soothing sensation was physical as well as mental and emotional.  As he felt Kirk position the blankets more securely around him, he spoke again: "Jim...you and Christine...searched for me in the snow for almost two hours?"

 

"Yes—in a blizzard, for most of that time.  You were completely buried in the snow by the time we found you," Kirk revealed cautiously.  "We did wait for you until after lunch.  Why didn't you come back?"

 

Spock's voice was full of shame as he responded.  "I...meant to...but I became...distracted... and lost track of where I was," he explained apologetically.

 

"Spock—are you sure you intended to come back?  You didn't purposely stay out there and try to...freeze yourself to death?" Kirk pressed anxiously.

 

"I also lost track of time," Spock continued softly.  "I was beyond visual range of the house before I knew it, and since my footprints were covered up, I had no way to get back."  He paused, in growing discomfort.  "I...just walked for as long as I could without knowing whether I was going in the right direction or not.  If...I had meant to commit suicide, I would certainly have chosen a more comfortable form of death."

 

Somehow, Kirk didn't find Spock's words very comforting, especially with the lack of conviction in his voice, and the Captain's own voice conveyed his remaining concern.  "Spock..." he began seriously.  "...while I was looking for you, I felt something from your mind—like you were

 

...saying goodbye to me."

 

"I have been...somewhat troubled lately," Spock admitted slowly, still trying to convey reassurance by squeezing his friend's shoulder.  "But there is no further cause for concern; I am... pleased...to find myself alive.  How long have I been...ill?"

 

"About three days—all spent either asleep, unconscious, or out of your head with fever," Kirk replied, letting his voice convey his relief.

 

"You have been...with me...all that time?"

 

He felt Kirk nod.  "You haven't had a good look at me yet, or you'd know that.  I haven't showered or shaved since we brought you back.  I couldn't stand the idea that your condition might change suddenly without me being here if you needed me," he responded, somewhat ruefully.

 

As Spock finished off the last of his cinnamon roll, he reached up with one hand to touch Kirk's face and felt the light layer of beard stubble there.  "Odd...no body odor," he commented faintly, ignoring Kirk's half-stifled chuckle in response.  "I felt your presence...just as I smelled the cinnamon roll," he recalled, then.  "It was such a...pleasant feeling to experience...when I never thought I would again."

 

"When you were delirious, you kept calling out to me, but I couldn't make you realize I was here," Kirk told him curiously.

 

"A nightmare...I thought you were dead," Spock explained vaguely.  "After I awaken, we will discuss it."

 

"All right.  You sleep, now...I'll stay right here with you," Kirk urged soothingly.

 

Spock obediently fell silent, relaxing against Kirk and concentrating on his awareness of his friend's physical and mental presence as he tried to go to sleep.  Eventually, his slowed but steady breathing told Kirk that he was sleeping soundly, and when he had slept quietly and without incident for a good half hour, Kirk gently lifted the Vulcan away from him and lay him down in the bed.  He retained his hold on one hand as he re-positioned the blankets around Spock, and Spock unconsciously intertwined his fingers with Kirk's.  Their fingers were still intertwined when Christine returned with a mug in one hand.

 

"Asleep again," she observed.

 

 Kirk looked around at her.  "Yes, but I think it's a different kind of sleep, this time," he returned optimistically.  "No restlessness."

 

She nodded in agreement.  "Amanda's dying to come up and see him," she told Kirk then, handing him the mug in such a way that he could take it by the handle without having to let go of Spock's hand.  "They made some hot buttered cider for you."

 

Kirk took it eagerly and began to sip it slowly.  "Mmm, great.  They must be getting along wonderfully by now."

 

"It seems so."

 

"Well, I guess she can come up when Spock wakes up again."

 

"That's what I told her."  Christine sat down opposite him on the bed, picking up her medscanner and again passing it over Spock's body.

 

"How is he?" Kirk asked.

 

"Better.  It looks like his vitals are finally starting to stabilize at a decent level, now," she reported, setting aside the medscanner and reaching to touch Spock's face; he was still too warm, but he had stopped sweating many hours ago.  "His temperature's almost back to normal," she noted, moving her hand then to stroke his hair.

 

They fell silent, each thinking their own thoughts as they watched Spock sleep.  After a time, Christine went back downstairs to get a second mug of hot buttered cider for each of them—and when Spock awoke, after sleeping for over three hours, Kirk was still working on his.  Spock watched him in interested silence for a time before speaking.  "What are you drinking, Jim?" he asked curiously, at last.

 

"It's called 'hot buttered cider', Spock."

 

Spock regarded him with a raised eyebrow.  He had heard of cider, but...with "hot butter"? "What does it taste like?" he questioned again, warily.  "It is not...alcoholic, is it?"

 

Kirk shook his head, almost laughing at his friend's expression of mingled curiosity and skepticism.  "No, it's basically just apple juice mixed with cinnamon and spices, served hot with brown sugar and butter melted into it," he assured Spock, noting the Vulcan's reaction to his listing of the ingredients.  "Want to try it?"

 

"Yes, please," Spock responded gratefully, trying not to sound too eager.

 

Kirk slipped his hand under Spock's head and lifted it carefully, moving the mug to Spock's lips.  "Here, now...just sip it slowly," he instructed softly.

 

Spock complied, gradually positioning his hands so that he could hold the mug himself. "Quite palatable," he concluded, after a few sips.  Kirk lowered the Vulcan's head back to the pillow and withdrew the mug.

 

"You can have some more later," he promised.

 

"Thank you, Jim," Spock replied, almost whispering.

 

"Spock...do you feel like seeing your mother?" Christine asked finally.

 

"Mother..." Spock repeated vaguely, as if momentarily confused, then he recovered and met her eyes in full comprehension.  "...yes.  Yes, Christine...I wish to see her."

 

Christine nodded acknowledgement, getting up.  "I'll get her.  She's just been waiting for the chance to see you," she told him, turning to go.

 

      She returned moments later with Amanda in tow.  Amanda hurried to his side and sat down next to him, just as Kirk got up almost unnoticed and slipped past them into the bathroom.  “Spock

 

...Christine says you're feeling better," Amanda began worriedly.

 

Spock nodded slowly as he looked at her.  "I will be all right now, Mother," he tried to assure her.

 

"Well, thank goodness.  Don't you know how much you scared us all?  Getting yourself lost in a blizzard and making the poor Captain and Christine go out in it to look for you—and worrying me sick—!"

 

"Mother—I know, and I do regret causing such...emotional distress...for all of you," Spock protested sincerely, interrupting her relieved, concern-born scolding.  "But you should have remembered and realized...that Jim would never allow me to come to harm."

 

"The angels were watching over him, no doubt about that," Christine decided, folding her arms across her chest as she studied Spock.

 

Spock directed a raised eyebrow at her in response to her choice of words.  "Perhaps...one angel," he returned thoughtfully.

 

He had spoken so softly that neither Amanda nor Christine were certain they had heard him correctly.  They exchanged puzzled looks before turning back to him.  "What?" they asked simultaneously.

 

"Nothing...never mind," Spock murmured, averting his eyes in embarrassment.

 

Just then, Kirk emerged from the bathroom, freshly clean-shaven, and resumed his previous seated position next to Spock.  His sudden reappearance reminded Amanda of something she'd forgotten to mention.  "Oh, my goodness—with all this uproar over Spock, it almost completely slipped my mind.  Captain, Dr. McCoy called this morning to tell you not to expect him for Christmas—but when he heard what's happened to Spock, he said he'd call back later in the evening to talk to you.  I think he wants to come up right away."

 

Kirk looked up at her in surprise, then back at Spock.  "That's wonderful!  Won't it be good to see Bones, Spock?"

 

Spock nodded.  "But I thought he wanted to spend Christmas with his daughter."

 

"So did I.  Well, I guess we'll find out when he calls back."  Kirk regarded him seriously.  "Now, then—if you feel up to it, it seems to me you and I have some things to discuss."

 

"Very well, Jim," Spock agreed, sighing.

 

"Come on, Christine—let’s go downstairs and give them some privacy," Amanda suggested quietly, getting up to go. Christine silently did likewise.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Once Kirk and Spock were alone, Spock explained—as well as he was able—about the nightmare and the angel that had looked so much like Christine, while Kirk listened in growing alarm but without saying anything until Spock was finished.  "Oh, Spock—my friend, why would you wish you'd never been born?" he questioned incredulously.  Another thought immediately occurred to him.  What is this, a real-life remake of It’s A Wonderful Life?  He wondered idly if Spock had ever seen the old black-and-white movie from early/mid-20th century Earth—probably not.  He made a mental note to look it up in the historical section of the ship’s vid-disk library and show it to Spock at their first opportunity.

 

By now feeling thoroughly humiliated, Spock bowed his head as he continued to sit up against his pillows.  "I was just...so tired of...interfering somehow with everyone's holiday celebrations that I started reflecting on my life," he explained, with difficulty.  "And it seemed to me that I had caused nothing but pain and disappointment to others for as long as I could remember.  I thought you would all be better off not having known me."

 

Kirk reached to take his Vulcan friend's hands in his, squeezing them encouragingly.  “Spock

 

...your mother and Christine and I—even Bones—all care about you.  We want you in our lives... and we're very glad that you're here with us."

 

"That is what the angel said," Spock recalled, studying the Human's hands shyly.  "I...wish to be with you, also, Jim...but I felt so...uncertain..."

 

"And you know now that there's no need to be," Kirk reiterated gently.

 

Spock nodded, looking up as the green blush gradually faded from his face.  "I never... believed in angels before, though I am beginning to think that perhaps I should reconsider.  Do you believe in them?"

 

"I believe in the one you saw.  It certainly sounds from your description like the genuine article," Kirk asserted thoughtfully.  "You know, Mom says we all have guardian angels that watch over us and step in to help us through times of crisis."

 

"If that is what I experienced, then perhaps my 'guardian angel' should have appeared as you," Spock returned quietly.

 

Kirk met his eyes with an expression of sudden affection as a smile broke across his face. "What about me?  I'm probably the first person in the history of Christianity to have a guardian angel with pointed ears!"

 

It seemed to Spock that he should have been embarrassed, but instead, he found that he felt honored that Kirk felt as protected and safe with him as he did with Kirk.  "Perhaps.  But it is appropriate for t'hy'la to assume such a role for one another," he pointed out.  "You and your existence are...very important to me."

 

"Just as you are to me.  And don't you ever go out in the snow again without—"

 

"—Someone with me," Spock finished understandingly.  "I know now that I was wrong to refuse your offer to accompany me...and if you repeat the offer, I will not do so again."

 

"Don't worry, I don't intend to take the chance of that happening again.  You came too close to dying," Kirk assured him.  "Now, I have another idea.  Before you got here, Mom was showing Christine how to make Christmas tree ornaments.  If I showed you how, you could make a couple to replace the ones you broke," he suggested, then.

 

Spock looked doubtful.  "Do you really think I could learn such a thing?"

 

“I don't see why not.  And it would give you something to do in bed while you're recovering."

 

Spock still seemed skeptical.

 

"Look, you can't possibly do worse than that silly-looking one of mine—and if they turn out good enough, you can also make one to put on the tree for the Bridge crew's next Christmas party," Kirk responded encouragingly.

 

Spock's expression brightened a bit at that idea.  "You would want a Christmas ornament that I made on our tree?" he questioned, pleasantly surprised.  The thought that he, a half-Vulcan who was still fairly inexperienced with Christmas celebrations, might be allowed to contribute a real, homemade tree ornament to his friends' Christmas decorations touched him more deeply than he could have anticipated.

 

"Sure.  Maybe it'll be the start of a whole, new Enterprise Christmas tradition—everybody in the crew can make an ornament for their own department Christmas party's tree," Kirk speculated hopefully.

 

"Very well," Spock acceded hesitantly.  But something about the idea of making ornaments was still bothering him.  "Jim...even if I make ornaments to 'replace' those of your mother's that I broke, I could never replace...the emotions you both attached to them.  Mine could never be anything but 'replacements' and would have no emotional value to your mother...or to you," he pointed out somberly.

 

Kirk squeezed his friend's hands once more before releasing them.  "Don't be so sure of that, Spock.  The fact that you want to try to return them to her in some form is going to carry more weight with her—and with me—than you think," he told the Vulcan kindly.

 

"Then you...both of you...would forgive me?"

 

Kirk found his First Officer's plaintive tone almost as disturbing as the idea that he could still think he hadn't been forgiven.  I guess he needs to hear the words, Kirk thought, aching with empathy for his friend.  "We forgave you a long time ago," he assured Spock gently.

 

"And your mother—?"

 

"Yes, Spock—Mom, too."

 

Kirk's voice was sincere, but Spock was still not fully convinced.  He decided that making new ornaments for Anna would at least be something she could appreciate as an attempt to make up for his carelessness—a gesture of consolation she would hopefully understand.  "Do I take it you have not finished putting up the decorations yet?"

 

"Well, we finished the tree, but there's always room for one or two more ornaments," Kirk asserted, smiling slightly again.  "Besides, there's another whole box of decorations to be put up around the house that we haven't gotten to yet."

 

"Then I could still help you," Spock realized, somewhat embarrassed but not surprised by the revelation that they had all been too preoccupied with him and his condition to finish decorating the house.

 

"Assuming you're up and around before Christmas," Kirk confirmed, studying his friend curiously.  "Do you want to?"

 

"If you are...still willing to permit it."

 

"I think you can consider it a standing invitation."

 

Just then, Amanda stuck her head through the door.  "Pardon the interruption, Captain, but Dr. McCoy's on the comm.  He's asking for you," she informed him.

 

"I'll be right down," Kirk replied eagerly, getting up quickly.  He glanced back down at Spock before leaving.  "I'll send Christine back up to stay with you while I'm talking to McCoy."

 

Spock nodded acknowledgement and watched Kirk leave the room.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Amanda preceded him down the stairs and went to de-activate the "hold" button on the comm terminal, hurrying away as Kirk moved to sit down in her place and faced the worried image of McCoy on the screen.  "Hi, Bones," he greeted the Doctor tiredly.

 

"You look like Hell, Jim," McCoy observed bluntly.

 

"Nice to see you, too," Kirk returned dryly.

 

McCoy ignored the sarcasm.  "How's Spock?"

 

"Still confined to bed, but recovering.  Christine's keeping an eye on him," Kirk reported. "How much did Amanda tell you?"

 

"Just that he went for a walk in a blizzard, got lost and nearly froze to death," McCoy replied, with mock casualness that failed to disguise his remaining anxiety.  "Is Christine sure he's not going to lose any appendages to frostbite?"

 

"Apparently.  Her biggest worry was his feet and legs, but he's already able to move them a little, so she seems to think he'll recover full use of them eventually," Kirk replied, letting McCoy see the relief he felt.

 

"Well, that's good.  But what I want to know is, what was he doing out there?  What damn fool let him go walking around in the snow?" McCoy demanded, then.

 

"Uh—that would be me," Kirk admitted guiltily.  "Not that I didn't try to stop him—I guess I just shouldn't have taken 'no' for an answer..."  Quickly, he gave McCoy a summary of Spock's Christmas mishaps with Amanda's family and the tree ornaments, and the unusual depression that had followed—carefully leaving out any mention of Spock's vision of the angel, or of his own fears that Spock might have at least subconsciously been trying to deliberately freeze himself to death.

 

      "My God...I assume you and Christine managed to cheer him up sufficiently, or you wouldn't have dared leave him long enough to talk to me."

 

"Yes, he seems to be feeling better, now—emotionally as well as physically." Kirk regarded McCoy curiously.  "Amanda said you were thinking of coming up to see us."

 

"I was considering it," McCoy admitted.  "But...Joanna's here, and we're having our first decent visit in years.  She hadn't expected me to be here, but now she seems to want me to stay for Christmas, and I really don't want to have to turn her down again if Spock's out of danger..."

 

Kirk nodded, understanding his dilemma.  "After Christmas, then?" he suggested hopefully.

 

"Count on it, Jim.  Make some extra egg nog for New Years' Eve," McCoy assured him.

 

"Great, Bones—Spock should be feeling well enough to be out of bed by then."

 

"I'll call you when I'm ready to leave so you can meet me at the shuttleport."

 

"All right, I'll be expecting your call."

 

"See you sometime between Christmas and New Years' Eve.  'Bye, Jim."

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

The next morning, Kirk felt confident enough to take a leisurely shower and change clothes—which in turn allowed Christine the time to give Spock his first sponge-bath since he had regained full consciousness.  She was careful to use warm water and plenty of towels, completing the process as quickly as possible—so that Spock would not get too cold while he was drying off—and  then helping the Vulcan back into his undershirt and pajama top.

 

She was all finished by the time Kirk came back out and decided to go take her own shower. Kirk, meanwhile, went downstairs for a few minutes to talk to his mother about the possibility of Spock making some Christmas tree ornaments, and Anna pointed him in the direction of the ornament supplies, which she and Christine had left sitting out in the living room, in a corner behind the fireplace.  Kirk gathered them all up and took them upstairs, spreading them out around Spock on the bed, then he—with some help from Christine—spent the next several hours showing Spock how to decorate various types of ornaments and watching the Vulcan's efforts to duplicate some of those he had seen on the tree.

 

They were interrupted only once by Amanda, who entered the room to bring them some lunch—including some more cinnamon rolls and his own mug of hot buttered cider for Spock.  He was rather discouraged when the end of the day arrived with his ornament only partially finished, but Kirk assured him that they frequently took longer than that to complete, and Spock began to feel better about his efforts.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

By the end of the week, Spock had managed to finish four ornaments—two meant to replace the ones he'd broken, made as close to identical as he had found possible, and the other two of his own design (one silver with blue ribbon and star sequins and one green with gold ribbon and sequins), made at Kirk's suggestion, to take back to the ship for the Bridge crew's Christmas tree —and  Christine had pronounced him well enough to be up and around.  The one proviso was that he had to be willing to let them help him—even let Kirk carry him, when necessary—because his legs were still going to be stiff and wobbly for a while; Spock agreed to this only after being certain that Kirk would have no objections.

 

At last, Kirk got out some fresh clothes for Spock, helped him dress (something necessitated by the limited range of movement that his legs were currently capable of, which made it difficult for him to put on any clothing below his waist alone), and followed him closely as he tottered off toward the stairs, preceded by Christine.  Once downstairs, the first thing Kirk and Christine did was escort Spock into the living room so he could see the tree and pick out a spot for the two ornaments he'd made.  After Kirk had carefully taken from them and put them on the tree, the three of them sat down with Anna and Amanda and tried to figure out how to manage the rest of the decorations so that Spock could help without straining his legs or taking the chance of falling and injuring himself.

 

Most of the remaining decorations were garlands of one type or another, and Kirk eventually decided it would be best to start Spock out helping him put one up along the stairwell railing.  He carried Spock back up the stairs and directed him to sit below the middle of the railing, then picked up the long piece of gold tinsel garland he'd been carrying and showed Spock how to pin it to the outside of the railing, leaving enough slack between the pins to make a medium-size scallop.

 

When he had the garland pinned halfway up the railing, he handed the coiled-up end of it and the rest of the pins to Spock, instructing him to try to keep the scallops all the same size. Since Spock could only see the bottom of each scallop from his side, Kirk helped him by guiding his fingers to the proper position for pinning the garland, cautioning him also to scoot back up one step as it became necessary for him to reach further back.

 

Meanwhile, Christine and Amanda put up a similar garland around the door jamb of the French doors leading into the living room.  When they turned to check Kirk's and Spock's progress, they found Kirk topping off the garland by tying red bows over the places where it had been pinned to the railing as Spock came cautiously back down the stairs, and they realized they needed to add red bows to their garland, too.  As they set about doing this, Spock reached the bottom of the stairs and Kirk began to look around to see what needed to be decorated next, someone—Kirk  quickly identified the culprit as Anna, who was sitting further down the entryway and watching—began to hum "Deck the Halls".

 

Kirk led Spock back into the living room to get some more tinsel garland and red bows out of the decoration box, and by the time they came back out, Amanda had begun to sing along with Anna's humming.  Kirk borrowed the step-ladder and moved to the dining room door, instructing Spock to sit on the top step and showing the Vulcan how to put up a garland around the door jamb. They could now hear all three women singing Christmas carols, though they had moved on from "Deck the Halls" to "Here We Come A-Wassailing".

 

"Jim, what is 'wassailing'?" Spock asked in puzzlement, as Kirk affixed the last bow to the garland.

 

"Not something you'd do.  It basically means drinking—drinking alcoholic drinks, specifically," Kirk replied, glancing over at the women chidingly.  "If you're going to sing that song, make it 'Here We Come A-Carolling'.  Mom likes her holidays alcohol-free—and so does Spock," he admonished, interrupting them.

 

"He has a point," Anna conceded.

 

Without a word of protest, the three of them immediately took up the alternate version of the song as each group began to move around the house, putting up the rest of the decorations.  Kirk joined them, though the singing gradually died down after they separated, and almost all the decorations were up by mid-afternoon.  The finishing touch was a glittering, gold ceramic angel, which Kirk dug out of the bottom of the box and coaxed Spock into hanging on its hook in the middle of the entryway ceiling as the rest of them gathered around, watching.  They could not resist applauding when Spock managed to get the hanger of this large and highly breakable decoration onto its hook without dropping and breaking it.

 

"All right, what's left?" Kirk asked finally, as he helped Spock climb cautiously down from the step-ladder and the others moved back.

 

"Is the wreath up on the door?" Anna questioned.

 

"Yes, Mom—we put all the outside decorations up after we finished the tree," Kirk reminded her.

 

"Let's see, then—the garlands are up, Christmas tablecloth on the dining room table, and I've gotten out all the matching placemats, napkins and plates, Christmas pillows are out in the living room and on the window seat cushions—oh!  I know what we need, Jim: mistletoe," Anna decided suddenly.  "Think you can cut some down from one of the trees?"

 

"Sure.  Where do you want to hang it?"

 

"I thought maybe over the living room door."

 

Kirk nodded acknowledgement, heading for the coat closet.  "Somebody put that step-ladder back up while I'm doing this."

 

Christine picked it up wordlessly and carried it off.

 

"Do you need help?" Spock asked, then.

 

"Not with the mistletoe--you stay inside," Kirk told him firmly.  "Go look in that box and see if you can find some nice ribbon to tie it with.  I guess I better go find a knife to cut it down."  After grabbing his coat, he headed for the kitchen.  When he returned with a knife, the entryway was empty, except for his mother; he passed by her as he fastened up his coat and stepped through the front door.

 

Spock, meanwhile, had found a reasonably sturdy piece of red velvet ribbon and now went to the nearest window, watching as Kirk made his way carefully down the porch steps, through the snow and over to the nearest tree with mistletoe in it.  He seemed to have considerable trouble getting up to the first branch, but once he made it and managed to stand up, he found a clump of mistletoe within easy reach.  It was just as he had succeeded in cutting off a sprig that Kirk lost his footing and slipped off the branch—but he managed to catch the latter with one hand as he fell, dropping harmlessly to the ground.

 

Spock breathed an audible sigh of relief and got up, moving as quickly as he could back to the entryway and arriving just as Kirk stepped through the door.  "Jim, you almost fell," he noted, some of his previous anxiety still touching his voice.

 

"I know, Spock, but I'm all right.  I'd just forgotten that branch was so slick when it was iced over," Kirk explained reassuringly.  "Did you get me some ribbon?"

 

Spock nodded, showing the ribbon to him.

 

Kirk took it and wrapped it around the stem of the mistletoe sprig, tying a knot and leaving enough excess to use as a hanger.  "All right, you make a small bow while I put this knife back up –and make sure the long end stays long," he told Spock, then.

 

Spock obediently struggled with the ribbon while Kirk returned the knife to the kitchen.  When the Captain came back, Spock offered him the mistletoe uncertainly.  "Is this correct?"

 

"It looks fine," Kirk assured him, taking the mistletoe from him.  "Now, all I have to do is hang it..."  He went over to the living room doorway and surveyed the section of the tinsel garland across the top of the door jamb, then took the mistletoe by the long end of the ribbon and dangled it experimentally over the center of the doorway.  "...right under this bow, I think.  Then I can use the pin in the garland to hang it from."  He carefully pulled out the pin and stuck it through both the garland and the end of the ribbon before replacing it.  "There."

 

He turned to find Spock beside him, regarding the mistletoe warily as he recalled the customs related to it.  Well...Kirk was still standing under it.  “Jim... does this mean I have to kiss you?" he questioned hesitantly.

 

Kirk couldn't help laughing, and neither could Anna, who was still watching from where she sat in the entryway, close by.  "No, no, Spock...that applies only if someone of the opposite sex sees me under the mistletoe," he corrected kindly, still laughing softly.  "Of course...if you should happen to want to give me a hug, I think that's perfectly permissible," he added—something he would have found difficult to suggest before V'ger had made Spock more receptive to the notion of physical displays of brotherly affection.

 

Spock considered this for a moment, realizing abruptly how tired and sore his legs felt.  He saw Kirk's arms reaching for him and moved unsteadily forward into his friend's embrace.  "As a matter of fact, I was just—"  As he started to lock his arms around Kirk's back, his legs suddenly gave way beneath him.

 

"Spock!" Kirk cried, quickly tightening his hold on the Vulcan so that he was supporting the latter's weight.

 

"I was just about to ask if...you would carry me somewhere so that I could sit down," Spock finished softly, in embarrassment.  "My legs have become rather unsteady...I suppose I must have overworked them today."

 

"I know.  Put your arms around my neck, now..."

 

Spock complied awkwardly just as Kirk managed to slip an arm under his knees and lift him in both arms.

 

"All right, where do you want to go?  The living room?"

 

"That would be acceptable, Jim."

 

Kirk turned and carried Spock into the living room, setting him down on the end of the sofa closest to the tree so he could get the best view of it, then Kirk sat down next to him.

 

"If you had to make the decision again...would you still invite me to spend Christmas with you here?" Spock asked, after a time, his eyes focused on the crackling fire in the fireplace.

 

Kirk turned to study him worriedly.  "Of course, I would.  I always want you with me at Christmas; you know that."

 

"Then...you have no regrets about it," Spock concluded cautiously.

 

"I regret not insisting on going along with you on your 'walk', and I regret your staying out so long and getting lost—but that's all," Kirk returned firmly.

 

"I have not ruined your holiday, then."

 

"On the contrary, as long as you're here—and all right—my holiday will be great."

 

Spock hesitated, looking around at him.  "I...needed to be certain, Jim," he explained softly.

 

"And are you, now?" Kirk questioned patiently.

 

“Yes," Spock sighed, leaning back against the sofa-back.

 

Anna entered then and guided her airchair over to them.  "We'll be eating dinner soon, so don't either of you fall asleep or wander off anywhere," she admonished, before turning to go.

 

"All right, Mom, we'll be right here," Kirk promised.  "By the way, do you know where Amanda and Christine are?"

 

"Amanda's in the kitchen, helping me, and I gather she left Christine sitting in the hallway," Anna replied, over her shoulder, as she disappeared through the door.

 

"We have window seats in our back hallways.  She must be watching the snow," Kirk supplied, in response to Spock's raised eyebrow.

 

"Oh."  Spock promptly returned his attention to the tree, noticing for the first time all the colorfully-wrapped packages surrounding the base of it.  "So many presents...I wonder if there are any for me."

 

"Oh, I can guarantee there are at least two under there for you," Kirk asserted, smiling secretively.

 

"There are none for Mother," Spock realized abruptly.

 

"True.  I guess we'll have to do something about that between now and Christmas," Kirk decided.  Amanda was the one visitor none of them had anticipated, so neither Anna nor anyone else had gotten her a present.  "Do you happen to know of anything specific that she wants?"

 

Spock shook his head.  "She has already received some presents from my aunt's family, and I doubt she expects anything from any of us, since she knows her arrival here was on such short notice.  But I do think that I, at least, should give her something."

 

"Don't worry, Spock—we all will.  We'll just have to go shopping tomorrow, that's all.  I'll ask Mom—she’s spent a lot of time with Amanda since you two got here; maybe Amanda mentioned something to her."

 

Spock turned to look at him uncertainly.  "I do not know if I will be physically able to go shopping before Christmas.  That would require a good deal of walking, would it not?  My legs... are still unreliable."

 

"I'll talk to Christine about that—we’ll work something out," Kirk promised him.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

As it turned out, everyone went shopping—even Anna, who was eager to have the chance to get out of the house—since Amanda wanted the chance to buy presents for them, as well.  All five of them piled into Anna's specially-equipped aircar (storing the airchair in a special compartment in the back of it), with Amanda and Anna in the front and Kirk, Spock and Christine crowded into the back seat.  They spent the day at the local mall, separating as soon as they got inside—Amanda  going with Anna and Kirk and Christine staying with Spock.

 

Christine had decided that a limited amount of exercise would help ease Spock's legs back into normal use, but she didn't want him rushing the process by overtaxing them (as he had yesterday) and insisted that he not be any more physically active than necessary for the duration of his leave, at least; fortunately, the mall had special shopping airchairs with big baskets in front of them available, and they immediately took advantage of the chance to rent one for Spock.

 

They came back home with the aircar's storage compartment so full of packages that there was barely room for Anna's chair and spent the rest of the evening wrapping them.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

So passed the last few days before Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, Spock was sitting on the living room sofa and talking with Christine, who sat at his feet alternately looking for things to feed the fire with and studying the tree; his legs were strong enough that Kirk no longer had to carry him so often, but they were still not fully healed yet, and he tried to stay seated as much as possible.

 

Then Kirk entered, carrying Spock's Vulcan harp, followed by Amanda and Anna.  "Here's something you haven't seen in a while," he stated, handing it to Spock as he reached his friend's side.

 

"No...I had forgotten it was here," Spock admitted, taking it gratefully and checking its tuning as Kirk sat down beside him on the sofa.

 

"Tell me, do you think you could play Christmas carols on that thing?"

 

Spock raised an eyebrow at him.  "I must assume that either that was meant rhetorically or your memory is in question," he returned, in puzzlement.

 

"It was rhetorical," Kirk confirmed quietly, turning to Anna and Amanda.  "Every year at the Bridge crew's Christmas party, we all sing carols.  Christine and I always get Spock to play them for us on his harp—otherwise, he has to sing along with us," he explained.

 

"A mutually beneficial arrangement, since I am not fond of singing, and there are not many sources of live instrumental accompaniment available on the Enterprise," Spock added dryly.

 

"Then by all means, go ahead and play something for us," Anna urged eagerly.  "I've never heard a Vulcan harp before, but Jim says it's 'indescribably beautiful'."

 

Spock blushed very slightly, lowering his eyes.  "What would you like to hear, Mrs. Kirk?" he asked softly.

 

"Anna," she corrected, patiently but firmly.  "You call my son 'Jim', so you call me 'Anna'."

 

Spock nodded once in understanding, though he still did not really feel comfortable with the idea.

 

"Now.  Can you play 'Angels We have Heard on High'? That's always been one of my favorites."

 

Coincidentally, it was also one of Kirk's favorites, and thus one that Spock was familiar with. He wordlessly began to play as the others sang along, similarly progressing through five more requested carols as the night wore on.  It was nearly 2300 when Spock concluded the evening musicale with a request of his own.  "Christine, would you sing something for us, now?  I am certain that Mother and...Anna...would appreciate hearing you."

 

"Solo?"

 

Spock nodded.

 

"Oh, Spock, you know I don't like to sing solo in public—"

 

"Nor do I customarily play my harp in public, but I make exceptions for special occasions such as Christmas," Spock interrupted hopefully.  "Could you not do so, as well?  You have such a

 

...pleasant singing voice...and I so seldom have the opportunity to hear it."

 

"She really is an accomplished singer,” Kirk put in helpfully, recalling how immensely she had benefited from Uhura's voice lessons.

 

Christine scarcely paid any attention; she was still focused on Spock.  "All right, Spock—for  you, I'll do it," she consented finally.  As Spock played, she sang "O Holy Night", and everyone applauded appreciatively when she was finished, clearly having enjoyed both Spock's playing and her singing.  Spock bowed his head briefly in gratitude, and Christine managed a curtsy as she got up from the floor.  "All right, who wants hot chocolate with whipped cream?" she asked, then.

 

"I do," Spock answered quickly.

 

"I'll take one," Kirk added.

 

"So will I," Amanda chimed in.  "I guess we all want one."  She watched Christine head past her for the kitchen and followed her.  "I'll help," she offered. Then they both disappeared through the doorway.

 

Anna moved her airchair up to join Kirk and Spock, picking something up out of her lap.  "We forgot about these stockings, and I'd still like to hang them up.  Would you hang them for me, Jim?" she requested, handing the decorated Christmas stockings to Kirk as he stood up.

 

Kirk took them reluctantly; they were another of his mother's creations—felt-and-sequin Christmas trees and snowflakes on red velvet.  Kirk's still had his name scrolled in gold glitter-pen across the white cuff, though the other had had the name removed—a fairly good job, though Kirk could just make out the shapes of short-cropped sections of the white fur where he knew the name "Sam" had once appeared, before his mother had cut it out after Sam's death, in the same glittery-gold cursive as the name on his own stocking.  "I can't believe you still want to hang these, Mom," he commented, somewhat ruefully, hanging each on the pre-existing hooks along the edge of the mantle.

 

"Oh, why not?  They're still pretty.  And it'll give us someplace to put all the smaller, oddly-shaped presents."

 

"If there are any."  Kirk looked back down at Spock.  "Want me to put the harp up for you?"

 

Spock nodded, carefully handing the instrument up to him.  "Thank you, Jim."

 

Kirk took it just as carefully and carried it off.

 

When he was out of the room, Anna focused her full attention on Spock.  "We haven't had much of a chance to talk, Spock," she began earnestly.  "Things are going to be pretty hectic around here tomorrow, and there's something I want to discuss with you while I have the chance."

 

"What is it?" Spock prompted warily.

 

"I understand Vulcans live considerably longer than Humans.”

 

“Vulcans normally live between two hundred fifty and three hundred Earth years," Spock asserted quietly.  "But there are several other factors influencing my life span—not the least of which being that I am a Starfleet officer on an active-duty starship, which entails certain physical risks."

 

"But you probably will outlive Jim."

 

Spock nodded, lowering his eyes in discomfort; it was a fact that remained unspoken and—as much as possible—ignored between him and his Human friends, but it was a fact that existed, nonetheless.  "And Christine, and Dr. McCoy...everyone of any importance to me," he added somberly, sighing.

 

"So you could be with him all his life," Anna concluded, all too aware of his discomfort and the fact that she was probably intruding too far into his personal life.  Perhaps she was being selfish and presumptuous—but if Spock did care for her son as much as Jim cared for his Vulcan friend, it seemed to her that Spock would want to satisfy her anxieties.

 

"That is my intention," Spock stated, in response.

 

"Well, Spock, unlike you, I'm close to the end of my life span," she pointed out finally.  "I'd feel a lot better about...leaving Jim behind if I knew someone was going to be around to take care of him and keep him out of trouble.  Could you do that for me?"

 

Spock met her eyes slowly.  "You need not ask me such a thing, Anna.  I have... already committed myself to his well-being, a commitment made freely a long time ago.  Do not be concerned for him; I will be with him, and I will always care for him," he promised.

 

Anna smiled at the sincerity in the Vulcan's voice, and they studied each other in silence for a time.  "Do you know how special you are to him?  You're his dearest friend, Spock," she revealed, at length.

 

Spock lowered his eyes again, blushing a faint green.

 

"Jim said you'd react like that.  I suppose I should have listened to him when he told me not to try to directly discuss your feelings for each other with you because he didn't want you to be embarrassed," she told him apologetically.

 

Spock made himself look back up at her.  "It is...an instinctive reaction, having to do with the fact that Vulcans do not customarily discuss their emotions...or express them," he explained hesitantly.  "I have been...trying to overcome that... reluctance...for some years, but it has proven to be more difficult than I had hoped."  He paused, lowering his eyes slightly.  "However...I try to make exceptions, in certain instances; I have found it virtually impossible to remain completely... detached...while living and working among Humans, and I do want Jim and certain others to...feel comfortable around me.  You see, I am aware of his emotions for me.  I do not understand them, but...I am grateful for them.  I am grateful also to you, Anna."

 

"Me?  Whatever for?" Anna asked, in bewilderment.

 

"For giving life to Jim, and raising him as you obviously did.  If he had never been there to reach out to me as he did and offer me his friendship...I quite literally do not know where I would be, now.  He has taught me so much about myself..." Spock shyly studied his folded hands as they rested in his lap, suddenly wanting to tell her everything, despite his uncertainty as to how she would respond.  "Jim has always had friends; he...makes them easily because he easily shares his thoughts and emotions.  But it is not so for me.  For a long time before I met him, I was...alone within myself, isolated from others; being a Vulcan, it was...convenient...for me to hide behind logic and emotional control, especially since all my training in the Vulcan way encouraged such       suppression and denial...and except for Mother, no one ever knew what I truly felt.  No one else wanted to know...until I met Jim.  I still do not share much of myself with others, but neither have I felt that degree of...loneliness...for a very long time.  

 

“Now I know I have someone I can share things with, someone willing to listen to whatever I have to say, even if it seems to me like pointless emotionalism...and however 'special' I am to him, be assured that he is more than special to me...and that he somehow knows and understands my... emotions for him.  His friendship is an honor that I still sometimes find myself unworthy of...but I remember that earlier emptiness within me, and I do not wish to outlive him...because I know it will return when he is gone."

 

Instinctively, Anna reached out to cover his hands with hers; he permitted her touch without being certain why.  "You love him," she deduced understandingly.  "I'm glad.  Just go on loving each other—don’t be afraid of the future; it'll take care of itself.  And remember—he’s no longer the only person in your life."

 

"I would never have permitted Christine or McCoy to be a part of my life without Jim to convince me that it would not be wrong to do so," Spock recalled quietly.  "But you need not fear that my emotions for him will ever change."  Still holding her hands, Spock looked up at her again, studying as if for the first time her facial features—the hazel eyes and still-brown hair that were so like Kirk's.  "He resembles you," Spock observed, then.

 

“I know.  And I think you have your mother’s eyes—not the color, but…the expressiveness,” she countered gently.

 

"Yes, Christine has made that same observation," Spock reflected thoughtfully.  It seemed ironic that the expressive, Human-like eyes that had only added to his difficulties on Vulcan now seemed to benefit him, helping to express his emotions when he needed to and was unable to do so any other way; Christine had even declared them her favorite physical trait of his.  He returned to the present, slowly releasing Anna's hands.  "Has he ever...spoken to you of our mental bond?"

 

She shook her head uncomprehendingly.

 

"As I expected—he does not normally discuss it, because he knows I consider it a private matter, between us," Spock concluded, thanking his friend silently.  "But suffice it to say that...we are a part of each other, and there is something intangible binding him and his life to me and mine."

 

"This...link...this is why you're afraid for him to die, isn't it?  His death would rip it out of you, and part of you would die with him."

 

"I see Jim also inherited his perceptiveness from you," Spock noted, without surprise.  "Yes, that is...a large part of the reason.  Unlike Jim, I never had a brother.  This 'link'—our mental and emotional bond—makes us brothers-of-the-mind and brothers-of-the-heart.  On Vulcan, we would be considered bond-brothers."

 

"Well, that doesn't surprise me," Anna decided.  "I think he's closer to you than he ever was to Sam.  'Bond-brothers', you say?"

 

Spock nodded, stopping short of mentioning the Vulcan word for it, which he normally only spoke when he and Kirk were alone—if then.  "And when one's bond-brother dies..."  Words failed him, but he was certain now that they would not be necessary; Anna had already made it clear that she understood the implications.

 

"Are you sure that this 'bond' is mutually acceptable—that Jim knows about it and doesn't mind?"

 

"We're both sure," another voice chimed in.

 

They turned to find Kirk approaching with two mugs of hot chocolate.

 

“I hate to interrupt you two, but if I stay in this doorway any longer, someone's going to kiss me," Kirk told them, cracking a smile.

 

"And just how long have you been standing there, eavesdropping?" Anna demanded, obviously flustered, if also grateful to have their increasingly morbid mood lightened.

 

"Oh, just long enough to know that you were having a nice talk with Spock," Kirk replied easily, handing one of the mugs to Spock and sitting down next to him again.  "No Vulcan would ever allow a mental bond to form with someone against their will, Mom," he assured her.  "And don't ever worry about me," he added, directing an affectionate smile at Spock as he slipped an arm around his mother.  "I have my own personal Vulcan guardian angel.

 

"So I see," Anna agreed warmly, as Kirk kissed her on the cheek.  She smiled back knowingly, turning her airchair toward the door.  "Well, I think I'll go back to the kitchen and see what's keeping Amanda and Christine."

 

Kirk watched her until she disappeared through the door, then turned back to find half Spock's face buried in the whipped cream on top of his hot chocolate, in an obvious effort to hide his sudden embarrassment—but Kirk could still see the green touching his friend's ear-tips. “Spock," he said gently.

 

Spock looked up apprehensively, now showing the hint of green in his cheeks.

 

"Spock, don't be embarrassed.  I certainly don't mind you discussing our friendship with Mom," he told the Vulcan reassuringly.

 

"You are certain?"

 

Kirk nodded, his smile suddenly spreading into a grin.  "You've got whipped cream all over your face," he observed, reaching to wipe some of it off of Spock's nose and cheeks.

 

"Perhaps if you did not put so much on the hot chocolate, I would not have this problem," Spock chided patiently, not moving until Kirk was finished.

 

"Who knew you were going to stick your whole face in the mug?" Kirk retorted.

 

"How else was I to reach the chocolate through all that whipped cream?" Spock counter-questioned, in feigned indignation.

 

"For your information, Christine was in charge of the whipped cream.  I just brought it out."

 

"Oh."

 

They fell silent then, each devoting his full attention to his own hot chocolate, hardly noticing when the women returned to the room, because they came in several minutes apart.  At last, Christine came to join them, sitting on the arm of the sofa next to Spock and offering him a small plate.  "We saved the last two cinnamon rolls for you," she told him invitingly.

 

"Thank you, Christine," Spock replied, in turn offering one to Kirk.  "Jim?"

 

"Thanks.  I'm glad somebody remembers I like them, too."  Kirk threw a not-too-subtle look at Christine as he spoke.

 

"I think I'll go to bed," Amanda announced finally, standing up while Kirk and Spock were still working on their cinnamon rolls.  "It's getting late, and tomorrow's likely to be a big day."

 

"Sounds good to me," Anna added, turning her airchair to follow Amanda as she left the room.  "Jim, don't you three stay up much later," she admonished, over her shoulder.

 

"We won't," Kirk promised.

 

"Do you suppose you two could scoot over and make some room for me to sit down?" Christine requested, at last.

 

Kirk and Spock immediately moved further toward the middle of the sofa, and Christine slipped into place between the arm of the sofa and Spock's side.  At length, Kirk and Spock finished their cinnamon rolls, and Spock passed the plate and empty mugs to Christine, who reached out and up to put them on the mantle.  Then they sat together in silence for a time, just enjoying each other's company.  "Listen, I can go up to bed if you two want to talk for a while," Kirk offered then, starting to get up.

 

Spock glanced questioningly at Christine.  "If you have no objections, I am...finding it rather enjoyable to have both of you here."

 

"We do need to talk about something," Christine pointed out.

 

"Is it something you would object to Jim hearing about?"

 

Christine was reluctant, but she was already resigned to Kirk staying.  "I'll let you be the judge," she told him calmly.  "It concerns our bonding."

 

Spock sighed, having expected her to bring this up.  "You may as well stay, Jim.  We may need your input," he decided.

 

“If you say so,” Kirk responded warily, sitting back down slowly.

 

"All right, Spock.  When?" Christine demanded.  "It's been two years since the V'ger mission and two years since we became engaged."

 

"I know.  I am not certain I am yet in any condition to be a fit husband, but neither can I afford to wait much longer; my pon farr cannot be too far off, now," Spock admitted hesitantly.

 

"Is there any reason you can't do it now, while we're still on leave?" Kirk asked, remembering his own earlier suggestion to Christine.

 

Spock's expression as he looked back at Kirk clearly indicated that the idea was one he had not considered before.  "A bonding ceremony is not a spontaneous event.  Certain preparations must be made—mental preparations," he objected doubtfully.  "And we would not be properly attired.  I did not bring my ceremonial robe."

 

Despite Christine's frustration, she knew that this was not some contrived excuse; it was important to Spock that their bonding ceremony be conducted as much as possible according to Vulcan tradition (even though Vulcan seemed to have disowned him as thoroughly as Sarek once had)—and that meant formal attire.  "I brought a long dress," she pointed out hopefully.

 

"But I did not bring anything appropriate—only sweaters and leggings," Spock returned, in a note of refusal.

 

"Oh, I think maybe I can find you something," Kirk suggested cryptically.  "What about this 'mental preparation'?  How long would you need?"

 

"Several hours, at least."

 

"Hmm.  It might be hard for us to manage that much isolation for you, especially tomorrow. Amanda would understand, of course, but I'm afraid Mom would think you were deliberately snubbing us," Kirk opined uncertainly.

 

“Fortunately, isolation will not be necessary," Spock informed him reassuringly.  "However, there is one other thing essential for a bonding ceremony that I must have."

 

"Such as?" Kirk prompted.

 

"It is customary to have a third person present who is familiar enough with the mind of the male to intervene mentally if he has trouble with the bonding," Spock revealed, then.  "We call it the t'hyr kalah—the 'bond-witness'.  Sarek filled the role when I bonded with T'Pring, and as it turned out, I would not have been able to complete the bonding without him."  His eyes met Kirk's.  "Since you and I already have a strong, deep mental bond, I had planned to ask you to be our t'hyr kalah.  Will you do it, Jim?"

 

Kirk hesitated, considering the matter carefully.  "Is it really that vital?" he questioned warily.

 

"I would not wish to attempt the bonding without it."

 

Kirk shook his head doubtfully.  "I don't know, Spock.  Do you really think I'm up to 'intervening mentally' in your bonding with Christine?"

 

"It would not be as difficult as you imagine—you would intervene in much the same way as we mind-meld," Spock explained encouragingly.  "You would act only if I seem to be having difficulty—taking too long, which would indicate that my mind was becoming trapped within Christine's, or involuntarily breaking off contact, which only happens prematurely and means I did not complete the bonding.  And all you would have to do is touch me; I would immediately feel your mental presence and follow its lead, and you would understand what to do as soon as you entered my mind."

 

But Kirk was not convinced.  "Sure—and hope to God I don't do something wrong and wind up damaging both your minds," he returned sardonically.  "I couldn't live with myself if I did that, Spock."

 

"You will not," Spock assured him softly, lowering his eyes slightly.  "I trust you, Jim—who  could be a better bond-witness than my own bond-brother?"  He reached out involuntarily to squeeze Kirk's arm.  "Can you not likewise trust me and my judgement?  If you refuse, I...am not entirely certain I will be able to complete the bonding successfully.  My telepathic skills are not as... consistent...as a full-blooded Vulcan's...and, in truth, there is no one else I could ask to be t'hyr kalah."

 

Kirk considered the matter further.  "Couldn't your mother—?"

 

"I never bonded with her, and in fact have only entered her mind a small number of times; in addition to her unfamiliarity with my mind, she lacks the knowledge and control to initiate and maintain the mental contact that would be necessary," Spock replied, shaking his head in negation before Kirk could finish.

 

Kirk still hesitated.  Spock was the telepath, not him.  But it occurred to him that he would feel just as guilty if something went wrong with the bonding and he was not there to help the Vulcan. Even if the bonding went as intended, Spock would always remember that Kirk had refused the most important of the few requests he'd ever made of his Captain—and he might never be willing to ask or accept his help again.  Finally, Kirk reached to cover Spock's hand with his.  "Oh, my friend...you don't ask favors of me very often, but when you do—"

 

"Captain, you're not seriously thinking of refusing, are you?" Christine interrupted, in obvious concern—the first time she had spoken since Spock had voiced his request.  "It's clear that he needs you to be part of our bonding ceremony."

 

"I know."  Kirk squeezed his friend's hand, then released it in order to slip his arm around Spock's back, though the Vulcan seemed not to notice.  "You're both right.  I can't very well turn him down...but I hope none of us will have any reason to regret his choice of bond-witness."

 

Spock lifted his head finally.  "As I have already stated, no other choice is possible for me," he reiterated quietly.  "Fortunately, I am confident in the choice I have made."

 

They fell silent for a time as Christine gradually relaxed against Spock's side and Kirk's head surreptitiously settled against Spock's shoulder.  Kirk's arm remained around his Vulcan friend's back, while Christine's absently circled his chest.  "It must be getting awfully late," Kirk noted, at last.

 

"Approximately 0115," Spock confirmed, glancing up at the mantle chronometer.

 

"We ought to go to bed," Kirk decided.

 

"Indeed," Spock agreed.  But several minutes passed and no one moved.  He looked down at Christine, noting that she, too, seemed comfortable where she was.  "Christine, do you not agree that we all should retire for the evening?" he asked.

 

"Yes," Christine replied, with her eyes closed.  Spock sensed that she was not going to sleep –just concentrating on her enjoyment of his closeness.

 

Still, no one moved.  Finally, Spock spoke again.  "Jim...do you think it would be permissible... would your mother object if...we just stayed here?" he asked softly, turning his head to meet Kirk's eyes.

 

"Do you really want to?" Kirk questioned uncertainly.

 

Spock nodded, bowing his head again.

 

Kirk then glanced past him at Christine.  "What about you, Christine?"

 

"I'm not going anywhere," she told him flatly.

 

"And you, Jim—will you stay, also?" Spock asked again, hesitantly.

 

"I suppose.  But I think we ought to at least have a blanket or something if we're going to stay here all night," he concluded, reaching toward his end of the sofa for the quilt lying over the arm.  He spread the quilt out over the three of them as they all positioned themselves more comfortably there, slipping off their boots and snuggling down into the sofa.  Kirk again rested his head on Spock's shoulder, and Spock unconsciously slipped an arm around each of them.

 

Spock closed his eyes and completely lowered his mental shields for the first time since they had found themselves settled together on the sofa, allowing himself full awareness of his Human friends' thoughts and emotions, not surprised to find nothing negative or unpleasant in their minds on this night—only a shared contentment and affection for him that warmed him deep within.  

 

Thus they spent the waning hours of Christmas Eve, seated together in companionable contentment on the living room sofa, falling asleep before the tree and the dying fire, and that was how Anna found them when she and Amanda first got up the next morning.  Smiling to herself at the sight, she called Amanda into the living room and they watched the sleeping trio silently for a time before deciding to leave them alone and let them get some more sleep.

 

 

 

XI

 

 

 

It was late that morning when they finally woke up, quickly separating, stretching for a few minutes to relieve any stiffness in their muscles and hurrying (or in Spock’s case, just moving as fast as he could) back upstairs, where they took turns showering and changed clothes before coming back downstairs.  By that time, Anna had Christmas dinner far enough along on its way to being ready that she could leave it cooking for a while, and all five of them gathered in front of the tree to unwrap presents.

 

Spock got a dressy, blue and silver winter tunic with matching slacks from Kirk, a set of six hand-made bookmarks from Christine (to use with his book collection), a crystal globe with a snow scene inside (and "snow" that swirled around when the globe was shaken or turned upside-down) to remind him of his stay here from Anna, and dark green fleece pajamas with feet in them from his mother.  Christine got a silver and lapis lazuli necklace from Spock, a matching bracelet from Amanda, a multi-colored, embroidered blouse from Anna, and a pink and gold cap-gloves-and-scarf set from Kirk.

 

Amanda got gold ear-rings from Anna, a book of assorted poetry from Spock, a star-shaped brooch from Kirk, and a colorful scarf from Christine.  Anna got a jewel-encrusted star brooch from Kirk (like the one he gave Amanda), a flower vase painted in an Egyptian design from Amanda, a set of decorative hair combs from Christine, and a blue, green and gold crocheted shawl from Spock.  And Kirk got an IDIC pendant from Spock (a duplicate of his own that he had arranged for his mother to have made and sent to him from Vulcan), a quilt from Anna, a short Vulcan robe/ tunic from Amanda, and a painting of the Enterprise from Christine, which she had painted herself.

 

By the time they had finished, it was time to eat, and Kirk, Spock and Christine went to sit down at the table while Amanda helped Anna serve the meal.  Anna's brown sugar-baked ham was accompanied by other foods that had likewise become a holiday tradition in the Kirk household: whipped sweet potatoes with marshmallows, asparagus with cheese sauce, corn-on-the-cob (lots of it), ambrosia fruit salad and a choice of pumpkin pie or bread pudding for dessert.

 

Spock made himself tolerate the smell of the ham (which was, to him, nauseating) well enough to stay at the dining table, out of respect to his hostess—something he somehow found it easier to do here than he had at Aunt Elizabeth's house—and tried to focus on the food he chose to eat, which consisted of a sampling of everything except the ham.  He even tried the bread pudding, at Kirk's suggestion, having never tasted it before, upon learning that it was Kirk's favorite dessert; Kirk and Christine were both especially pleased to note not only the variety of the dishes he tried, but also the fact that he actually requested seconds on some dishes—something unheard of for the perpetually underweight Vulcan.

 

After Kirk and Christine had helped Anna and Amanda put everything away and clean up the kitchen, the older women having refused Spock's help on the grounds that it would require too much standing for his still-healing legs, the Captain and his Assistant Chief Medical Officer decided to go out in the snow.  They realized that Spock would probably not want to be left behind, and there was some debate as to whether or not he was recovered enough to go out with them; in the end, after Christine examined him again, it was decided that he could go with them for a short time—provided they stayed with him, made sure he bundled up, and kept him from getting too tired or doing anything that might strain his legs.

 

Anna and Amanda watched from the window as Kirk and Christine progressed from showing Spock how to make snow-angels—lying on their backs in the snow, simultaneously moving their arms up and down while moving their legs out apart and back together across the surface of the snow—to a ground-level snowball fight that negated the necessity of Spock standing up (after the Vulcan had quickly mastered snow-angels), and finally to plain, all-out silliness that seemed from Anna and Amanda's point of view to consist mainly of the three of them rolling around in the snow, throwing it at each other, or launching sneak tickle-attacks on each other.

 

To the delight of the two Humans, Spock was found to be the most susceptible of any of them to this particular form of devilment, and he spent much of his time trying to keep Kirk and Christine from zeroing in on ticklish spots that illogically remained vulnerable, even through his layers of clothing.  Eventually, he turned the tables on them, climbing on top of Kirk just to pin him down and tickle him mercilessly for several minutes—after which he scrambled through the snow on all fours after Christine, holding her down more gently and similarly tickling her.  Kirk finally stopped him by hugging him affectionately and pinning his arms, and though Spock knew he had recovered enough strength to be able to free himself, he gave in, letting Kirk hug him playfully and listening to his laughter; immediately, he felt Christine next to and behind him, mischievously nuzzling his ear as Kirk released him.

 

Finally, they all separated and simply lay in the snow side-by-side, insulated from it by either layered clothing or, in Spock's case, a thermal snowsuit, Kirk and Christine on their backs and Spock on his stomach between them, propped up on his elbows.  "Spock...how do you feel?

 

Are you getting tired or cold yet?" Kirk asked anxiously.

 

"Oddly enough, all I am feeling is...a sort of contentment," he observed, meeting Kirk's gaze wonderingly.  "It seems illogical, but...Jim, I believe I am actually finding this sort of activity rather invigorating."

 

"Really?" Kirk questioned, both hopefully and doubtfully.  Despite sensing his friend's sincerity, he knew it was probably some kind of false euphoria resulting from the sudden realization that he had survived the snow well enough to be able to come out and face it again like this.  No Vulcan should really find being in the snow "invigorating", especially while still recovering from nearly dying in it.

 

Spock nodded.  "Could we not continue a little longer?"

 

Kirk and Christine exchanged uncertain looks, Christine clearly as concerned as Kirk.  "I'd better check his vitals again first," she decided, getting up abruptly and heading back to the porch, where she had left her medikit (wanting to have it close at hand without risking it getting lost or buried in the snow), taking out the medscanner and returning to Spock's side to sit down next to him.  He turned over and sat up as she passed it over him.  "Hmm—I guess he's just glad to be alive, Captain.  No sign of undue physical stress...beyond what one would expect when this is the most active he's been in the two weeks since he got lost in the snow...and the cold doesn't seem to be affecting him yet," she concluded, getting up again.  "Better keep him moving, though, or that'll change."

 

When she returned from the porch after replacing the scanner in the medikit, they decided to build a snowman, letting Spock form the two smallest of the three snowballs that would be needed, while Kirk and Christine formed the big bottom one themselves.  After it was finished, they went back to their previous frivolity, playing in the snow until it became apparent that Spock was beginning to feel the cold.  Kirk and Christine helped him to his feet, hustling him back inside before he could be any more affected by it—and were surprised to learn from Amanda that they had been outside for almost an hour.  Spock promptly attributed his comparative ease in dealing with the cold to several factors, all of which could be summarized in three words: Kirk and Christine.

 

His previous mishap in the snow had made them extra vigilant and protective of him—especially when he was out in the snow—and since his physical state was still a source of concern, Spock found himself more grateful than embarrassed.  Jim spoke of 'guardian angels'.  He has a Vulcan one, and I seem to have two Human ones, he noted to himself later, as he peeled off his snowsuit and put his sweater back on over the one layer of clothing that Kirk had assured him would be (and that had been, in fact) sufficient under the thermal snowsuit.  And one of the two is waiting to bond with me...and waiting and waiting. I suppose I have put it off for as long as I can.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

After Spock and his friends had put away their Christmas presents, he devoted the rest of the evening to mental preparations for the bonding ceremony, even as he once again entertained Anna and Amanda by playing his Vulcan harp.  Kirk and Christine, meanwhile, set about picking out a place for the bonding ceremony—deciding after a tour of the house that the best place would be where Spock was the most comfortable: in the living room, in front of the fireplace and next to the tree.

 

Once back in the living room, Kirk noticed that his mother had, at some time since the stockings were put up last night, gotten the gold glitter-pen out of her Christmas ornament supplies and written Spock's name over the remnants of Sam's on the unmarked cuff of what had been the latter's stocking.  "I wonder when she did that," he remarked, calling Spock's attention to it.

 

Spock, certain she must have done it after—and as a reaction to—his private talk with Anna, blushed a deep green that Kirk, fortunately, did not see.  "I believe I know when," Spock revealed vaguely.

 

Kirk didn't press him.  The implication of his mother's actions was enough for him: she recognized, as they did, that Spock was as much his brother as (if not more than) Sam had been. He smiled affectionately at Spock, who felt Kirk's smile upon him and looked back up, now returning his gaze without shame.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

The next morning, Christine put on the long dress she had brought—a holiday gown in red, green and gold, with long sleeves gathered in tiers and a fitted bodice—and Spock put on the blue and silver outfit that Kirk had given him for Christmas, while Kirk prepared the living room for the ceremony.  He moved back the sofa a bit, generally straightened up the room and got the fire going good in the fireplace before going upstairs to change clothes, himself—putting on his own burgundy and gold-trimmed velveteen dress tunic and matching slacks.

 

      Amanda, meanwhile, kept Anna out of the living room and tried to explain to her what was going on; after Kirk, Spock and Christine came back downstairs in formal attire in the middle of Amanda's explanation, however, Anna's curiosity was piqued sufficiently that she could not resist following them to the living room door.  Amanda followed her to be sure she stayed far enough back not to be seen.

 

Just before entering the living room, Christine deliberately planted herself in the doorway, under the mistletoe, ignoring Anna and Amanda's presence nearby; Spock, his mind focused on the impending bonding, actually moved past her without noticing where she was until Kirk nudged him and called his attention to her and the noisy throat-clearing sounds she was directing at him. Spock paused, returning quickly to the living room door.

 

"Forgive me, Christine—I did not see you there," he murmured apologetically, planting a gentle, cautious kiss on her lips before leading her into the living room.  "Your gown is most attractive," he observed softly.

 

"So is your blue outfit," she returned sincerely.

 

"Jim knows my tastes well...although it is a bit loose," Spock admitted, likewise studying the silver embroidery on the tunic with satisfaction.

 

"Well, we keep telling you to eat more," Christine reminded him chidingly.

 

"I know."

 

Kirk sat on the nearby sofa and watched as Spock drew Christine closer to the tree, where they eventually stopped.  One pair of hands joined as Spock positioned his other hand on her face for the required mind-meld.  He had told Kirk that the bonding should take about twenty minutes—anything beyond five minutes more or less would mean he was having problems and Kirk would have to intervene, though Spock anticipated less difficulty than he'd had with his bonding with T'Pring, because he and Christine already had a partial bond.

 

As Spock had hoped and expected, he entered Christine's mind easily and she responded instinctively, her mind forming the ritual bonding words along with his: Never and always... touching and touched...knowing and known, seeing and seen...separate and together.  Our minds are one, our hearts are one...joined by choice...as I, Christine, to you...and as I, Spock, to you.  In accordance with the customs of my people, which stand unchanged since the time of Surak, so be it.

 

Kirk heard their unconscious, whispered vocalizations of the words as he watched and waited, almost holding his breath, tracking the passage of time by the chronometer on the mantle. They fell silent again, and for Kirk, the silence was filled with growing tension as he counted off the minutes.  Ten minutes... fifteen...twenty-five...thirty.  Thirty?  Kirk stood up anxiously as the minutes continued to tick away.  Thirty-five...forty...finally forcing aside his reluctance to act and risk damaging their minds, Kirk stepped forward abruptly and grabbed Spock by the shoulders, shouting into his mind: Spock!

 

For a moment, Kirk glimpsed the terrifying spectacle of Spock's and Christine's thoughts chaotically entangled, but he felt Spock's consciousness respond immediately, sending out tendrils of thought toward Kirk, though at first, only a few of such tendrils were able to penetrate Christine's consciousness.  Jim? Spock's mind called faintly, through those tendrils.

 

Time to end this, Spock.  Is the bonding complete?

 

Yes.  How long--?

 

Almost forty-five minutes, now.  Time to come back with me.

 

Spock's consciousness threaded its way slowly around and through Christine's mind as Kirk's reached deeper—being careful not to get himself entangled in her thoughts—and the Vulcan felt his mind being drawn toward Kirk's.  Gradually, his Captain's stronger bond with him asserted itself, and Spock felt Christine's mental presence fade as Kirk's took over the meld.  Once freed, Spock's mind reached out at last for Kirk's.  Can you take me the rest of the way, Jim? his mindvoice requested.  I am finding it difficult to focus my thoughts, and I do not seem to have enough...control...of the meld left to end it.

 

I know.  It's all right...just hold onto my thoughts.  Hold on... Kirk's mindvoice was gentle and encouraging.

 

Spock obediently embraced his friend's thoughts, and in a moment, awareness of his surroundings began to return.  Christine was released from the meld first and immediately dropped to her knees; Kirk was released next, a second or so before Spock, and staggered briefly but remained on his feet as his disorientation quickly faded.  Spock, however, immediately collapsed, though Kirk caught him before he hit the floor and steered him over to the sofa, making him lie down as Christine dragged herself over and rested against the base of the sofa, below Spock.  Kirk, meanwhile, sat next to him on the edge of the sofa.  After a time, Spock opened his eyes halfway and looked up at him.  "Jim?  So tired, Jim..." he murmured, somewhat guiltily.

 

"That's all right—you just rest, now," Kirk urged gently.

 

"But...Christine...is she...?"

 

"I'll look after her.  You try to sleep, and I'll stay right here," Kirk promised him, reaching for the quilt they had used last night and spreading it over him.

 

Spock closed his eyes and slept deeply, while Kirk examined Christine; she seemed to be recovering normally and focusing more and more of her attention on Spock.  They watched over Spock together as he slept, eventually joined by Anna and Amanda, who had become too concerned to stay away any longer.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

Spock slept for two hours, waking up to find Kirk and Christine still with him and still dressed in the clothes they had worn at the bonding ceremony.  Kirk explained that they had decided to go along with Anna's suggestion that, since they were all dressed up, anyway, they might want to go out for a late lunch; he even offered to bow out if Spock wanted to go alone with Christine (since they were now officially bond-mates and had something else to celebrate), but neither of them would hear of it—especially since Kirk was the only one of them who knew the area well enough to direct them to a restaurant.

 

Anna and Amanda chose to stay home, and when Kirk, Spock and Christine returned, Anna reported that McCoy had called while they were gone to say that he would be taking a shuttle tomorrow and would expect Kirk to meet him in Des Moines.  After changing clothes, the three of them re-convened in the living room with Anna and Amanda and spent the afternoon drinking hot chocolate, discussing McCoy's impending arrival and reminiscing—with only a few days of leave left to them—on their Christmas visit with Kirk's mother.  "It has been a rather eventful holiday," Spock concluded.

 

"For you, almost too eventful," Kirk agreed dryly.

 

Spock lowered his eyes, by now instinctively embarrassed by his getting-lost-in-a-blizzard incident.  "Is it not enough that I am recovering?" he asked softly.

 

"Yes, it is," Kirk admitted quietly.  "Still...it was awfully close, Spock."

 

"Nonetheless, I am...grateful...that you invited me to be with you," Spock returned sincerely, looking back up now with a controlled expression.

 

Kirk glanced questioningly at Christine, recalling that she had never really wanted to come—at least, not with him.

 

"I must admit, Captain, I don't have much to complain about, either, all things considered," Christine added, in response, looking knowingly at Spock.  "In fact, there are some parts of this Christmas leave that I wouldn't have missed for anything."

 

Spock's expression was unreadable—at least, by Christine—as he returned her gaze; Kirk smiled secretively as he looked back and forth between the two of them.

 

Just then, Anna came back from answering the comm terminal and informed Amanda that the call was for her.  Amanda got up to answer it and returned a few minutes later to face Spock with an expression of shock and wonder on her face.

 

"Mother, what is it?" Spock asked anxiously.

 

"That was your Aunt Elizabeth, Spock—I gave her this code number in case she wanted to call and say goodbye to me before I went back to Vulcan," she explained slowly.  "Apparently, they all had a long family discussion last night, and Annabelle and Greg have changed their minds about you.  They and the rest of the family would like to see you before you return to the Enterprise—I told Elizabeth I'd ask you and call right back with your answer.  Do you want to give them another chance?"  She studied Spock doubtfully as she spoke.

 

At first, Spock was too stunned to respond...then he looked toward Kirk for advice.  "What do you think I should do, Jim?"

 

Kirk shrugged.  "That's up to you.  Just remember, our leaves end on New Years' Day."

 

"Then...if I go back to Philadelphia, I will miss spending part of the holiday with McCoy."

 

Kirk nodded.  "And all four of us being together on New Years' Eve, and watching him unwrap our Christmas presents for him," he added slyly.  "Then again...how often does anyone in your family ask to see you?"  His eyes conveyed understanding as they met Spock's.  "I know how long you've been waiting for something like this.  It's all right with me if you want to go if it's all right with Christine.  And I think Bones would understand, too."

 

Christine was given no chance to back Kirk up, for just then, Spock came to a decision.  "Not all my family are blood relatives," he reminded Kirk quietly, before turning determinedly back to Amanda.  "Please tell Aunt Elizabeth that I must decline due to lack of time.  If Aunt Annabelle and her family are sincere, this is not a one-time offer and they will permit a later visit from me," he instructed, his voice cooling as he recalled their treatment of him.  "For now..." Unexpectedly, his eyes returned to Kirk and Christine.  "...I would rather wait for Dr. McCoy and spend New Years' Eve with my friends."

 

"I'll tell her," Amanda replied understandingly.  "I may as well go on and tell her now," she decided, getting up and leaving the room again.

 

Kirk, meanwhile, regarded the Vulcan uncertainly.  "Are you sure about this?"

 

"Yes, Jim," Spock asserted factually.

 

"Do you think you'll really get another chance to see your aunt's family?"

 

"I do not know," Spock confessed faintly.  "But if they cannot understand my reasons for staying better than my clan on Vulcan would..." He shook his head slowly in a clear expression of pity and disgust.  "...then perhaps I am better off without them."

 

"Maybe you are, at that," Kirk agreed, an expression of acceptance filling his eyes.

 

A small smile touched Spock's lips as he returned his Captain's gaze.

 

"Well, I've just enjoyed this Christmas more than I can say," Anna declared enthusiastically. "Finally getting the chance to meet this wonderful friend that Jim never stops talking about...and then this 'bonding ceremony'.  Christine, I'm sorry I originally thought you were Jim's girl friend; now that I've seen you with Spock, it's obvious you two belong together."

 

Spock and Christine both blushed slightly.

 

"Come on, Mom—you’re embarrassing them," Kirk chided her exasperatedly.

 

Amanda came back just then and handed Spock a small piece of paper.  "Greg and Annabelle's comm code number," she explained.  "They want you to call the next time you're going to be on Earth for a while."

 

Spock looked up at her hopefully.  "Then, they still wish to see me?"

 

"Yes..." Amanda hesitated, lowering her eyes in discomfort.

 

"You do not seem certain," he noted.

 

She sighed, facing him again.  "They did say they want to see you...but if you contact them, don't be surprised if they make a lot of excuses for not seeing you.  Annabelle listed off a whole bunch of theoretical exceptions—things they don't want interrupted or postponed if they're already planned or going on at the time," she revealed reluctantly.  "Spock, I think they're sincere—but I also think they're a little bit afraid of you."

 

"What have I done that they should 'fear' me--beyond being in their presence and not being fully Human?" Spock questioned, bowing his head in resignation when Amanda failed to come up with any verbal response and handing the paper back to her.  "You keep their comm code number, Mother.  Save it until such time as they overcome their irrational 'fear' of anything unknown or different enough to accept my presence without hesitation or reservation...and without any manufactured ‘excuses’ for avoiding it."

 

Amanda took it back reluctantly, having anticipated this reaction, but also having hoped that he would be more patient with her relatives than they really deserved.

 

As Spock sat back against the sofa with a small sigh of disappointment, Kirk reached out cautiously to lay a hand on his Vulcan friend's shoulder.  "Don't give up on them, Spock," he advised gently.

 

"I appear to have little choice.  They seem to have 'given up on' me," Spock countered, looking up at him doubtfully.  "Yes, as I said...I am content to be here."

 

"And we're glad you're here, too," Kirk assured him, cracking a smile.

 

Spock returned his gaze appreciatively, affection shining within the brown depths of his eyes, even as Christine leaned close and kissed him on the cheek.  In response, he turned toward her briefly, focusing the expression of veiled affection in his dark eyes on her and reaching up to gently touch her face, reflecting on his present situation.  Even if his Human aunt and uncle never succeeded in accepting him and his presence, Spock knew he could tolerate the pain of their rejection, just as he had learned to tolerate the rejection of his clan on Vulcan; his life was full, and the unconsciousness-induced vision of the angel had shown him that he was an important part of the lives of those he cared about—even when it seemed to Spock that all he did was cause trouble for them or get in their way.

 

He felt fortunate to have someone as patient and gentle with him as Kirk and Christine were to spend Christmas with...and he had found it unexpectedly pleasant meeting Anna Kirk.  His own mother had made a friend—probably her first real one since her marriage to Sarek (and something Spock was certain she missed on Vulcan)—and besides, she reminded Spock too much of Kirk not to inspire his instinctive approval and affinity.

 

Best of all, he had rediscovered his previous awareness that it was all right for him to share in his Human friends' Christmas celebrations—if for no other reason than because they wanted him to.  Even to the extent of helping them put up the decorations.  To Spock's surprise and relief, his first Terran Christmas had turned out to be something he would enjoy remembering, after all; as he looked from Christine back to Kirk, Spock wondered how he could ever have expected it to be otherwise.

 

Ignoring Anna's and Amanda's presence, he cautiously but deliberately reached out to join hands with both Kirk and Christine, sending out the same emotion-laden thought to each of them: Merry Christmas, Jim...Merry Christmas, Christine.

 

They felt his rare inner peace and responded simultaneously: Merry Christmas, Spock.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

A week later, the three of them were celebrating New Years' Eve with McCoy, toasting each other and the holiday—Spock with hot buttered cider and Kirk and McCoy with non-alcoholic egg-nog—after McCoy had earlier had the chance at last to unwrap his Christmas presents from all of them.  Spock had been duly lectured by McCoy, once the Doctor had learned the details of the Vulcan's near-fatal mishap in the blizzard, and congratulated (along with Christine) when McCoy learned also that Spock and Christine were now fully bonded; the rest of McCoy's short visit had been spent mainly letting the other three fill him in on other things he had missed, including a serious private talk with Kirk about Spock's unexpected—though mercifully transitory—depression.

 

The next day, they all said goodbye to each other at the Des Moines shuttleport.  Amanda promised to keep in touch with Anna, and when Kirk knelt to let his mother kiss him goodbye, she persuaded Spock to let her kiss him, also, whispering a reminder to him to take good care of Kirk as the Vulcan blushed a faint green.  It turned out to be fortunate that Kirk and his friends managed to get together with Anna for Christmas, because—as Kirk had anticipated—it was the last Christmas he was able to spend with her.  For him—as for McCoy, Christine, Amanda, and especially, Spock—it was a Christmas he and they never forgot.

 

 

This story archived at https://ksarchive.com/viewstory.php?sid=1482