Spock looked away from the screen of his viewer for the third time in an hour, again distracted by Kirk's activities, even though the Human was doing his best to be quiet. Contrary to Spock’s expressed preferences for a private room, he had been assigned a room-mate when he arrived at Starfleet Academy 2.73 months ago, sent to share the dormitory room of a Human named James Tiberius Kirk—and Spock had to admit that, to date, Cadet Kirk had probably been the most ideal room-mate he could have hoped for, now that he had been forced to endure having one.
Kirk was quiet and studious; though he had many friends, including some of the opposite sex, he was respectful enough of Spock’s privacy not to invite any of them to his room without consulting the Vulcan first. Also, although he enjoyed various forms of recreation, he was not given to the excessive bouts of drinking, casual sex and other illogical activities that Spock had seen other Humans engaging (or talking about engaging) in. And most of all, Kirk actually seemed to find his company pleasant, always striving to include Spock in his plans (even when Spock didn't necessarily want to be), instead of avoiding or gossiping about him when he thought the Vulcan wouldn’t hear, as almost everyone else did.
One result of this open, eager friendliness, however, was that Kirk was forever trying to involve him in activities that conflicted with his Vulcan upbringing. Sometimes, to his everlasting shame, Spock had allowed himself to give in if they were alone, since Kirk's respectful and compassionate treatment of him had earned his trust—but now they had come to a line which Spock could not cross, a line that may as well have been the width of an abyss for the degree of separation it put between himself and Kirk. They were on Earth—for Spock, wanting to get the best possible view of the inner workings of Starfleet Command, had chosen to attend the main branch of Starfleet Academy, adjacent to Starfleet Central Headquarters in San Francisco—and it was roughly mid-December; Kirk was packing to go home for Christmas vacation.
Spock watched in silence as Kirk moved quietly around the room, gathering up items to put in his travel bag. Realizing that Spock was again watching him, Kirk paused as he reached the bed with his current load, turned to the Vulcan and again asked what he had already asked twice before. "Are you sure you don't want to come with me, Spock? There's still time for you to get packed if you want to change your mind."
"As I have already endeavored to explain to you, Mr. Kirk, Vulcans do not recognize emotion-laden Terran holidays such as Christmas," Spock reiterated patiently. "Besides…I do know enough of such 'celebrations' to be aware that they are meant as family events."
Kirk took a few steps toward him as Spock carefully returned his eyes to his viewer. "And I told you, Spock—you'd be welcome. I've mentioned you to Mom. She wants to meet you," he tried to assure Spock. "Besides...I'd miss you.”
The unspoken truth that Spock was as aware of as Kirk was that Kirk was afraid to leave his half-Vulcan room-mate alone for three weeks. The Academy's Commanding Officer had assigned Spock to his room for psychological reasons, in the hope that the more open and extroverted Kirk would draw out the shy, reserved Vulcan and help Spock with his social skills, which were still poor, by Starfleet/Human standards; Kirk's efforts were continually hampered by Spock being the only Vulcan at Starfleet Academy, and all the difficulties that that entailed.
There were other off-worlders there, of course, but none of them were half-Human—which somehow seemed to make it worse instead of better. Spock had struggled to keep that part of himself suppressed, but somehow the other cadets had found out about its existence—he knew only that (aside from the necessary facts provided for his Personnel records) he had only revealed the truth about his hybrid heritage to Kirk, who, he was sure, had kept his secret. Kirk had been privy to at least some of the resulting teasing and insults; he had heard the taunts of "cold-blooded freak" and "go back to Vulcan", which seemed to be the most popular among those who could not keep their prejudices to themselves.
And Kirk ached for him, certain that somewhere beneath the seemingly impassive facade of logic, Spock was hurting and lonely, thinking that he had no choice but to suppress and ignore the emotions. He had by now come to know just enough about Vulcans in general and Spock in particular to be unconvinced that being here alone for three weeks at a time when most cadets would be spending the holiday with their families would be as beneficial as Spock claimed.
Though Spock did not dare allow himself to consider the ultimately confusing question of whether or not he would "miss" Kirk, he could not suppress a responding surge of gratitude for the obvious sincerity of the Human's emotions as he allowed some awareness of them to filter through his mental shields. His manner softened somewhat as he responded. "I assure you, there is no cause for concern. I intend to keep myself quite fully occupied with my studies—I shall be several assignments ahead of you in xenobiology by the time you return."
It was one of the few classes they shared, since most of Spock's were more advanced; that they had any of the same classes was only possible because Kirk was two years ahead of him. "As if you aren't already wiping up the floor with me," he retorted dryly, turning back to his bag and resuming his packing.
Spock directed a raised eyebrow at the Human, paying more attention to the disappointment apparent in Kirk's manner than to his puzzling wording. The more time he spent around Kirk, the more Spock regretted refusing him anything. He asked so little, and he gave...more than Spock knew how to accept. And Kirk always seemed so crestfallen in the wake of Spock's refusal that, even with his mental shields at full strength, the Vulcan was physically uncomfortable. "But it is you who excel in our officer training courses," he pointed out helpfully.
Kirk shrugged it off, not looking at him. "That's one of your only first-year courses—and my only advanced one," he countered.
"Nonetheless...my instructor says I 'seem to have trouble with leadership roles'." Spock did not mention his misgivings about having this much difficulty with an introductory-level leadership course, but he could not help wondering how he would ever cope with the more advanced command-level courses that Kirk had already passed.
Kirk turned back to him finally, aware of his concern. "Don't worry—you'll get it. It just takes time," he consoled Spock, indicating the bag. "That's it, except for the stuff from the bathroom—and I'll put that in tomorrow before I leave," he announced, then. "For now, I better get to bed; it's a long way to Iowa, and my shuttle leaves at 0800. You going to stay up and study some more?"
Spock thought about it and realized he would have plenty of time to study after Kirk was gone. "No, I suppose I may as well go to bed, too," he decided.
Kirk nodded approvingly as he moved his bag off his bed and began to change into his pajamas, pausing as he did so to glance sidelong at Spock. "Will you at least come with me to the shuttleport and see me off?" he requested hopefully.
"I do not understand what purpose it would serve, but…if you wish," Spock acceded hesitantly, not wanting to refuse Kirk again when it was not necessary, as he likewise began getting ready for bed.
When they were each in their beds and the lights were off, Kirk belatedly spoke again: "Promise me you'll get out, go for walks and things—I don't want you spending the whole three weeks shut up in this room. You can't have that much studying to do."
Spock was reluctant to make a commitment he might not be able to keep. While the Academy grounds were quite attractive and he would have liked to examine them at more length than he was usually able to, he seldom went out unnecessarily unless Kirk was with him; such "walks" otherwise tended to lead to trouble, since he was far too easy a target for verbal abuse from other cadets when alone and out in the open.
He might appear invulnerable to them, but he was not masochistic enough to be willing to again endure what he had become far too accustomed to on Vulcan—not unless he was accompanied by Kirk, whose presence seemed the only thing so far that consistently diverted his attention enough for him to ignore their taunts. Why this was so, Spock was not certain. "Except to eat, I have little reason to go anywhere else," he pointed out quietly.
It was possible, Spock realized, that the Human might spend his three-week holiday worrying illogically about his Vulcan room-mate if he did not give his word, and Spock did not want to be responsible for that. Kirk, at least, should be able to celebrate the holiday in the customary manner—and after all, Spock would not wish his level of isolation and loneliness on anyone, least of all this man who seemed to be trying so hard to be a friend to him. Very well...I promise," he gave in, finally.
"Good." Kirk paused. "I wish your mother could come to visit."
Spock knew that Kirk did not understand his room-mate's shattered relationship with Sarek, or why being in Starfleet should be such a source of shame to the Vulcan's father—Spock had not told him enough about it for it to be possible for Kirk to understand; he knew only that Sarek had, for some vaguely related reason, broken off all contact with Spock and refused to let his mother do more than write to him.
“So does she,” Spock responded faintly, keeping his voice carefully controlled. And so do I, he thought regretfully. Amanda always came back to Earth to visit relatives at Christmas, anyway, and it seemed unfortunate—for both of them—that she could not also visit Spock. She still loved him, he knew—and unlike Sarek, she still accepted him as her son. A part of him frequently longed for her affection and gentle Human wisdom..."Mr. Kirk..."
"For the thousandth time, would you please call me 'Jim'?"
"Jim," Spock repeated uncertainly—it still seemed presumptuous to address Kirk so informally. "Would you really...'miss' me?" The idea that Kirk would even think about him while celebrating Christmas with his family seemed simultaneously unlikely, intriguing, and unsettling. He had no interest in sharing Kirk's Christmas, but the increasing evidence that Kirk wanted him to inspired other, more disturbing emotions in Spock.
"Of course, I would. We're friends—I'd much rather us be together for Christmas," Kirk answered matter-of-factly.
Spock was silent for so long after that that Kirk assumed he had gone to sleep. "Thank you," Spock said softly, at last.
"For inviting me to go with you. Even though I cannot accept, I appreciate the offer. I am not accustomed—" Spock struggled to reinforce his emotional controls, succeeding finally in time to stop himself from revealing any more. "—to receiving such invitations," he finished awkwardly.
"You're welcome," Kirk returned, not knowing what else to say.
"Good night, Mr. Kirk," Spock sighed, at last.
"Good night, Spock," Kirk yawned, in response.
The next morning, Spock accompanied Kirk to Starfleet Central's shuttleport, in accordance with the latter's request. Their goodbyes were short and awkward; Kirk was accustomed to emotionally demonstrative greetings and partings, and the Human part of Spock yearned to oblige him with a brief hug, but they both knew that his rigid Vulcan training in emotional control would not permit such openness—especially not in the public setting of a shuttleport passenger lounge. Which left them both wondering what gestures, if any, would be appropriate, since simply saying goodbye and going their separate ways seemed impolite (even to Spock).
Eventually, Kirk—still looking disappointed—offered his hand to Spock, something he had not done since the day they met. In fact, since learning how much Vulcans disliked physical contact (because of the unwanted heightened awareness it gave them of the other person's thoughts and emotions), he had done his best not to touch Spock at all unless he was certain the latter was sufficiently prepared to accept it. He looked at Spock entreatingly, praying silently that the Vulcan would permit it now, rather than reject him again.
Spock took his hand cautiously, reinforcing his mental shields against the hurt and unhappiness he knew would flood into him from Kirk's mind. He squeezed Kirk's hand slightly as they exchanged goodbyes, thinking to himself that these were not the sort of emotions that his mother had taught him to associate with Christmas. "I believe the correct expression is 'Merry Christmas', Mr. Kirk. No doubt your family is anxious to see you," he offered hesitantly.
"Thanks, but I don't feel that 'merry' right now," Kirk responded resignedly. "My mother and brother will be there, all right, and maybe a few others, but...somebody’s going to be missing."
For a moment, the expression in Spock's dark eyes clearly indicated that he would be no happier here alone, but then he quickly lowered them, hoping Kirk had not seen the emotion he knew they must be revealing. "Perhaps the time will pass quickly," he suggested carefully.
For me, maybe. But what about you? Kirk thought doubtfully.
Spock sensed the thought with unsettling clarity and realized abruptly that he was still holding Kirk's hand; he let go immediately.
Kirk shook his head sadly, wondering where and from whom Spock had learned this fear of being cared for and worried about. It didn't seem likely that it could only be what Spock described as "the Vulcan way", though that might account for his apparent fear of reciprocating. Someday, he would have to get Spock to discuss it...if his room-mate ever allowed him close enough emotionally to trust him that much, which for now seemed highly unlikely. "Well, the shuttle won't wait much longer. I'll see you in three weeks," he concluded, turning finally to go.
Spock watched him through the windows until Kirk had actually boarded the shuttle and could no longer be seen, then he turned and headed resignedly back to his dorm room.
Spock soon discovered that as long as he kept himself busy with his studies and did not allow his mind to wander to thoughts of Kirk, he hardly noticed the Human's absence. But at other times, on the infrequent but inevitable occasions when he had to think of something else, the emptiness of the room penetrated his concentration, making him increasingly uncomfortable. He found himself periodically glancing over at Kirk’s empty bed, which he had made up after returning from the shuttleport, and wondering what Kirk would say to him if he were watching the Vulcan now. Was this what it meant to “miss” someone, in the context in which Kirk had mentioned it? Spock could not help thinking that it must be, though he could not remember ever having experienced such emotions before and did not understand how or why he was doing so now.
Before the end of the week, Spock had gotten further ahead in most of his classes than he had any need to be; he had already outdistanced most of his Human classmates, just working at his normal pace, by the beginning of the Academy's Christmas Vacation stand-down. Kirk had warned him against alienating them by "showing off", as he called deliberately doing better than one's classmates in order to humiliate them—though Spock had argued that he never meant to "humiliate" anyone—just to do his best. When Spock realized he had started thinking of Kirk again, he decided to take a break and start keeping his promise to Kirk to "get out"; perhaps a change of scenery would lighten his mood.
Spock took the elevator down to the ground floor of the dormitory, one of several such cadet housing facilities—actually, updated and converted barracks—in the complex, and made his way slowly across the Academy grounds. Beneath his customary mask of Vulcan non-emotion, he could not help being surprised at how few people he saw; apparently, more of the off-worlder cadets than he had expected had taken advantage of the Academy’s hospitality program, which paired them off with host-Humans for each Terran holiday observed by the school.
It was not mandatory, so Spock had chosen not to participate, considering the whole idea an expression of unwanted pity based on the false (if well-intentioned) assumption that all off-worlders wanted to share Terran holiday celebrations with a Human. Besides…he had calculated the odds as being overwhelmingly against being assigned to Kirk, the only person, Human or otherwise, whom he had even the beginnings of a rapport with. Kirk had made it clear he was willing to share the holiday with him, willing to familiarize him with the customs involved, willing to do most anything to help him enjoy Christmas, if Spock would just agree to spend it with him.
Spock shook himself out of his reverie, not wanting to dwell on thoughts of his absent room-mate. He realized he had traversed approximately three-fourths of the Academy's central courtyard and, realizing also he had not eaten in several days, decided to go on to the Base Cafeteria. It, too, was virtually deserted, and not—as Spock now knew—just because it was after normal lunch hours. He made his selections and went to sit down at a table in a corner, knowing he should be grateful for the silence and solitude, a chance to eat his meal without the usual accompanying background noise of (mostly) Human conversation, as he was accustomed to doing on Vulcan.
But since meeting Kirk, solitude seemed to only remind him that the isolation he thought he had long ago accepted as being part of following the Vulcan way was becoming increasingly unsatisfying and uncomfortable for him; he needed something more—acceptance, friendship, some kind of emotional connection to someone. This Christmas holiday would have been a good time to start working on that connection, if only Spock had not been so afraid of embarrassing himself or Kirk in front of the Human’s family.
After spending twenty minutes futilely pushing vegetables around his plate with a fork, Spock concluded with a resigned sigh that he was still not hungry. He did not understand why, but the fact existed that food held no interest for him. How could he be so emotionally affected by his inability to participate in a holiday that held no meaning for him? Did it hold some meaning for him, beyond being a time when Human emotionalism ran more rampant than usual, or did he just envy Kirk's easy sense of belonging—something Spock had not found and did not ever expect to find? Spock searched his memories of everything his mother had ever told him about Christmas, getting up finally and returning his food tray before heading back to his room.
Once he had returned, he replayed the message tape that had finally arrived from Amanda earlier that week, keeping his eyes on the image shown of her on his viewer as he listened again to her words:
"Spock—I wanted more than anything to come see you for Christmas, but Sarek's been completely immovable on the subject. Thank goodness you have your room-mate—hopefully, you can spend Christmas with him. Don't refuse if he invites you, Spock. You'll regret it. You need to be with someone over Christmas, and this Jim Kirk obviously wants to be your friend. Let him. Go with him. Don't worry about how to respond—you'll learn. He'll teach you. This holiday could be a good way to start. I'm sorry I can't be with you to discuss this with you in person, but maybe next year. I want you to be happy, Spock; please don't waste this chance. Remember, I'm proud of you and I love you—Mother."
After the screen went dark, Spock sat and stared at it for some time, deep in thought. His mother meant well, and her words mirrored instinctive thoughts that had already begun to nag at him deep within his Human half, but she did not understand...he had no place in Human Christmas celebrations. He was a Vulcan; the Human part of him that she knew so well was, as it had always been, irrelevant. Still...it was that part of him that had driven him to attend Starfleet Academy on his mother's homeworld.
Any number of Academy branches would have been closer, but Spock had wanted to study Humans in their native habitat. He had hoped to learn how to interact with them, curious to see if they would accept him any more readily than his peers on Vulcan had. And so far, only Kirk had reached out to him with anything resembling acceptance.
Spock realized reluctantly that he would have liked to at least try to celebrate the holiday with Kirk. With no classes to attend and not enough faculty or cadets left to easily observe, the Academy held little interest for him just now. It was empty, echoing the emptiness Spock felt deep within him. No amount of Vulcan logic or emotional control had ever filled that void, for it was the same one Spock had tried to fill (or ignore) using the prescribed methods for as long as he could remember. He turned off the viewer with a sigh, got up and went to sit on his bed, assuming his customary meditation position—head bowed, fingers steepled, legs folded and crossed beneath him—and prepared for a long period of meditation.
* * *
The following days were much the same for Spock. He meditated, read, played chess with the computer, and generally tried to ignore his awareness that it was the Christmas holiday and he was alone. He was always alone, it seemed, even with all the Academy's normal population present, just as he had been on Vulcan—and being accustomed to it was not the same as enjoying it. There was only one time he did not feel entirely alone...and it was all Spock could do to keep himself from dwelling on it. When Christmas Eve finally arrived, Spock found himself looking out the window next to Kirk's bed, studying the gray December sky and wondering what Kirk was doing.
As he looked out across the grounds, he noticed a small number of cadets—probably all the Humans that were left—wandering past the various dormitory buildings; when they reached his, Spock detected the sound of singing drifting up to him, audible even through the closed window, and realized they must be doing what his mother called "carolling"—an ancient Terran tradition in which the participants went door-to-door singing "Christmas carols". The sound only deepened the feelings of depression that Spock was already struggling to control, but he listened anyway, trying vainly to identify the carols, until the cadet carollers had moved on to the next dormitory. Then he got ready for bed and turned out the lights—though he knew it was unlikely he would sleep.
The next day, Christmas, Spock spent sitting on Kirk's bed and looking out the window, atypically hugging one of the Human's throw pillows, feeling as if he might start crying at any moment and wondering if he would have the strength to suppress the urge when it came. After not eating and only sleeping sporadically since Kirk's departure, he had fought for control all night. Meditation techniques that normally allowed him relaxation and easier emotional control had merely left him numb from the effort without providing him any real comfort—apparently the emotions inspired by this holiday, even his own, were too strong or deep to be affected by Vulcan emotional controls, though Spock still did not understand why that should be true for him.
The day wore on and morning turned to afternoon without any lightening of Spock's mood. Then, at around 1430, the door to his room opened without warning and he jumped to his feet, startled. In walked Kirk, still dressed for Christmas in Iowa—in a heavy sweater over a shirt and jeans, in addition to his coat—and carrying a big, wrapped package. His whole face beamed a greeting to the Vulcan.
"Mr. Kirk?" Spock responded, in open astonishment.
"I had to come back early—we opened our presents last night, and I took the first shuttle out this morning. I just couldn't stand the idea of you being alone on Christmas," Kirk explained, setting down his travel bag and eagerly handing the present to Spock. "This is for you. From me."
"For me?" Spock repeated doubtfully, taking it slowly from Kirk and sitting down on his own bed to unwrap it. When the wrapping paper was off, Spock opened the box and took out a heavy, gray sweater with thick, braided ribbing down the front and sleeves, identical to the one Kirk was wearing.
"You always seem so cold, so I thought you might need something like this to wear in winter," Kirk told him. "You can wear it by itself, if the itchiness doesn't bother you, or with a shirt under it, like I do. And it’s gray, which will go with almost anything—" He paused, staring at Spock, who had bowed his head and was clutching the sweater to his chest as if it were of incalculable value—or as if he thought someone might take it away. Kirk sat down beside him on the bed, still studying him worriedly. "Spock?" he prompted finally.
"No one...except my mother...has ever given me a present before,” Spock revealed softly. "On Vulcan, they are considered illogical and superfluous because of the...emotional connotations."
"I hope you don't view them that way."
Spock shook his head, remembering his mother's attempts to commemorate birthdays and any other Terran holidays that might serve as an excuse for her to give him an unexpected gift. "I always appreciated Mother's presents. And I would have welcomed—" he stopped abruptly, unwilling to discuss or dwell on the intensified feelings of rejection by his peers that had always followed such occasions when he reflected on "celebrations" that only his mother wanted to be a part of. In the face of Kirk's current tangible expression of affection, those memories seemed far away and irrelevant. He looked up at the Human finally, an expression of mingled shame, confusion and gratitude filling his dark eyes. "Jim, why...why do you care? Why does it matter to you...what I feel, or whether or not I am...alone?"
Kirk sensed somehow that Spock was talking about more than just the present "Why shouldn't I care?" he asked, puzzled and increasingly worried.
Spock lowered his eyes again. "I am a Vulcan. I am unfamiliar with most Human emotions and customs. And I obviously am not very good company for Humans,” he elaborated awkwardly. "Why would you go to such lengths to include me in anything?”
“Because you’re ‘good company’ for me. Otherwise I wouldn't consider you my friend, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted you to spend Christmas with me and my family.” Kirk countered kindly.
“It is still Christmas,” Spock observed, looking up slowly as realization dawned. “You…left your family to be with me on Christmas?”
Kirk nodded. "And to bring you that present while it still was Christmas.” He watched the Vulcan anxiously, as always, uncertain how to console him without touching him. Cautiously, he slipped and arm around Spock’s shoulders and rested it lightly there, waiting to see if Spock would object or pull away.
To his surprise, Spock did not withdraw, sitting quietly instead and allowing Kirk to draw him closer. It was the first time Kirk could recall that he had ever let the Human hold him, even in such a cautious, partial embrace as this. “Forgive me,” Spock murmured. He had only wanted to sense the sincerity of Kirk’s emotions for him, directly, just for a moment; it was so pleasant to think that someone could want to be with him this much…but, as usual, the feeling was drowned in shame as soon as his emotional controls reasserted themselves, and he straightened quickly.
“You said you would not object,” he reminded Kirk hopefully, referring to a previous occasion shortly after they had met, when Kirk had been obliged to assure him, after an accidental “intrusion” (Spock’s word for accidentally brushing against him), that he did not and would not object to the Vulcan’s touch.
“I don’t,” Kirk reiterated gently, noting that Spock had still not completely detached himself from Kirk’s half-embrace. He made a mental note to ask Spock about it later.
“Thank you for the present, Jim. It was…most kind of you…and I shall always treasure it as my first gift from a…friend,” Spock acknowledged sincerely, at last. He regarded Kirk curiously. “Do you feel ‘merry’ now?” he asked, knowing the Human would recognize his reference to Kirk’s unhappy departure for Iowa.
“Now, yes…definitely,” Kirk decided, scarcely having to think about his answer.
“Then it would be appropriate for me to wish you ‘Merry Christmas’, would it not?”
Kirk nodded again, happily. “Merry Christmas, my friend. Come on, try on that sweater and see if it fits. You can wear it when we go to the Base Cafeteria to see if they’ve got any Christmas goodies left—I haven’t eaten since I left Iowa.”
Spock knew as his eyes met Kirk’s that the latter had noticed the weight he had lost in his Human’s room-mate’s absence—probably also knew, or at least suspected, that he had eaten virtually nothing since Kirk’s departure. Spock lowered his eyes again as they both got up, then he silently moved to oblige, removing his short, layered Vulcan robe and exchanging it for the even thicker sweater; following Kirk’s example, he wore it over a long-sleeved, high-collared shirt (a dark-silver-gray bodyshirt with a mandarin-like collar, as opposed to Kirk’s denim-blue turtle-neck, that looked as if it had been made to go with the sweater—or vice versa.)
The sweater proved to be a little baggy, but almost sinfully warm, and looked good with the heavy, black, corduroy-like leggings he was wearing. “It is very comfortable, and it does mach my clothing,” he admitted, allowing his pleasure to show in his eyes as he looked back up at Kirk.
“It’s a little big, but that’s because you’re too skinny. I’ll have to fatten you up,” Kirk warned him playfully.
Spock cocked an eyebrow at him knowingly. “Is that a threat?”
"A promise," Kirk asserted, pulling a large, red, cylindrical tin out of his bag and brandishing it at Spock like a high-powered phaser. "And this'll be a start. Mom sent a bunch of Christmas cookies back with me. I hope you like iced sugar cookies and chocolate-covered chocolate chip."
Instantly curious, Spock moved closer and reached toward the tin.
"Oh, no, you don't—not until after dinner. Come on, the turkey's waiting. Or for you, corn-on-the-cob. And dressing—" Kirk stopped, realizing that Spock had stopped and had his head bowed again. "What's wrong now?"
"The custom, as I recall, is that gifts are exchanged," Spock reminded him faintly. "I have nothing to give you."
"I'd settle for your friendship."
Spock looked up and opened his mouth to protest that he could not promise something he might not be able to give—then he changed his mind. "I have no experience with the emotion, but I suppose...it might be interesting to...study the Human concept of 'friendship' first-hand," he reasoned hesitantly, though the Vulcan in him questioned the logic of his true motivations.
Kirk smiled knowingly at him. "Rationalize it all you want, but it's the best present you could give me."
"The giving of it may take a long time to achieve...if it is even possible for me to give it," Spock warned him quietly. "And you may not find it worth the wait."
"Let me decide that. For now, just humor me and let me spend the rest of my Christmas vacation with you," Kirk suggested, reaching out to lightly touch Spock's arm. "Let's go to dinner."
"As you wish, Mr. K—Jim," Spock acceded, correcting himself in response to the look Kirk gave him. He was secretly relieved that none of his efforts to discourage Kirk from involving him in his Christmas celebrations had worked. He still marveled that Kirk, a Human, would even think of involving a Vulcan in such festivities...but he had by now decided that submitting to Kirk's wishes in this was far more pleasant than the isolated feeling of being forbidden to take part, forbidden by more than Vulcan custom.
Kirk was at least opening to him a new world of choices—and possibilities. Even the Vulcan part of him was curious about the holiday, and his mother had been right; the loneliness he had experienced during this time had caught him totally unprepared for its intensity. It had been more than his emotional controls could consistently handle, and the Human part of him now longed for the day when he could share such celebrations—at least, with Kirk—with no reservations or second thoughts.
As Spock studied his incredibly patient Human room-mate, he realized his mother had been right about something else, too: Kirk wanted to share Christmas with him, and would teach him as much about the holiday—and how to deliver on his special promised present of friendship—as Spock would allow. Instincts born of Spock's Human half told him it could turn out to be the best possible present for him, too—if only his Vulcan half would permit it. As he reached for his coat and they headed out the door for the Base Cafeteria, Spock silently willed himself to remain open to Christmas and to the possibility of friendship growing between them: I am ready, Jim. Let the lessons begin.