“God-DAMMIT.” Jim Kirk slams his hands onto the steering wheel, his breath escaping in a puff of condensation. Shore leave on Earth had been the captain’s idea, but so far it has been one small mishap after another, all the way from the missed shuttle-to-ground flights to the ominous thunking sound the engine has been making for the past two point three miles. The captain is clearly frustrated, and Spock can see the moment when he pushes the irritation down, plastering his best dammit-we’re-gonna-make-this-work grin on his face before he turns to Spock.
“Spock, now, I know you don’t like the cold much, so you just sit tight, ok? I’ll have this fixed in no time.” His teeth are shiny even in the moonlight, so Spock shifts his neck further down into the collar of the synthetic down overcoat Jim insisted he procure, and nods. He should probably offer to help, he supposes, but his fingers are cold, and Jim is already out of the vehicle and digging under the hood.
Spock is quite confident that Jim can handle it on his own. He is a capable man.
It’s been dark for several hours now; they are at a relatively northern latitude, and the sun sank into the horizon shortly after four in the afternoon. At first the evening sky had been clear, the stars popping into visibility one by one in the purpling dusk, but then they began to disappear as silently as they had come, and Jim had cursed quietly after glancing at the in-vehicle weather report.
The snow had begun to fall in an almost nonchalant fashion. First a fat flake had splattered on the windshield, an overly pristine casualty of the physics of motion. But then where there was one, there were now two, then three, five, seven. It was not long before the road had become a white sheet, distinguishable only by its elevated nature from the plains surrounding.
“So, it looks like we’re going to be driving in some snow. You ever seen snow?” Jim had his make-the-best-of-it voice on, and Spock wondered briefly what the “it” was.
“Yes, Jim, I have seen snow. Several times.”
“Oh.” Jim seemed momentarily crestfallen, then straightened back up. “Well, ok. But I’ll bet you’ve never seen it quite like this! But, so, I don’t know if we’re going to make the cabin tonight. I mean…” He paused, adjusting his grip on the wheel as a gust of arctic air pushed the little vehicle to one side. “I’m a good snow driver- grew up with the stuff. But part of being a good snow driver is knowing when to quit, and this? This is gonna get dangerous.”
“I trust your judgment, Jim.” Spock folded his hands across his lap. He was already enjoying this long-awaited vacation. It felt as though there couldn’t be another person for miles, and he could feel his mind relaxing infinitesimally, freed from the continual hubbub and clamour of life with hundreds of other sentient beings.
“Well, good. My judgment says we need to get our asses off the road ASAP, buddy.” Jim scowled at the holographic map. “Here’s hoping that… looks like Crow’s Ford… has some sort of Super 8.”
He snapped the music station over to a station billing itself as “Swingin’ Christmas- all Santa, all the time! Only the best oldies for the season!” and began to sing along.
“…a ’54 convertible too, light blue…”
Spock had leaned back in his seat and begun to doze.
His chilled musings are interrupted abruptly by the bang of the car hood closing, blowing puffs of snow in curlicue patterns against the dark of the sky. Jim flings the door open and bounces into the seat, slamming the door behind him and rubbing his mittened hands together briskly.
“Brrrr! Hot damn, it’s cold out there!” He cuts his eyes at Spock, smirking just a touch. “I know, I know. How illogical to describe one temperature state with its opposite.” His voice is utterly deadpan, and Spock allows the corner of his mouth to tilt.
“I did not say a word.”
If he were human, he would laugh and roll his eyes at his friend’s sarcasm. He twitches an eyebrow instead, and Jim chuckles.
“Have you ascertained the problem?”
“Yeah. Looks like the radiator’s about to go. It’s already cracked.” His face darkens briefly. “Stupid rental place. ‘Herb’s High-Quality Hovercars’, my ass.” He grimaces. “But, well, not much to be done about it now. We can’t stay here.” He gestures expansively at the wide-open prairie and the gradually increasing snowfall, and Spock suppresses a shiver at the thought. “Looks like it’s only about another oh, five miles or so to Crow’s Ford, whatever the hell kind of town that is, so we’ll just have to make it that far and hope for a motel. If we go slow, the radiator should hold. I think.” He grins at Spock, his eyes tight in the corners. “Don’t worry, buddy, I won’t let us freeze out here on the tundra.”
Spock studies him for a moment as he twists the key in the ignition, the engine turning over with a loudly-voiced complaint.
“I am not worried, Jim.”
Crow’s Ford, as it turns out, does indeed have a motel. One that, Spock suspects, is perhaps nearer the less-reputable end of the scale. Given, however, that the next town down the freeway is at least an hour’s drive, he is prepared to “like it or lump it”, as Jim so eloquently puts it.
Jim pays cash in advance, and he rolls his eyes at how the pig-eyed man behind the counter holds his credit chit up to the light to make sure that it’s not counterfeit. They are handed a stubby plastic key card and a clutch of brochures about the area and directed to park down the row.
Jim practically shoves Spock through the room door when it opens, admonishing him sternly to get the heat going and stay put. Spock finds himself rather amused; somehow his non-uniformed presence on a expedition that is not a mission invites a surprising amount of what he suspects Bones would call “fussing” from the captain.
He does as he is bid, and by the time he’s got the room to an acceptable temperature and has changed into warmer and more comfortable attire, Jim has filled all the corners of the room with mysterious bundles from the car. Spock’s fingers are twitching to investigate, but he worries about the propriety.
Jim finally slams the door one last time, grinning at Spock as he peels off his sodden mittens and holds his cold-reddened hands over the heat vent.
“Well, it’s not what I promised, and I am sorry for that. But we’ll make the best of it, you’ll see. It’s still Christmas Eve, and we’re still gonna have a great time.” There’s a determination in Jim’s voice.
Spock finds himself wondering exactly who that statement is meant to reassure, but nods in assent.
“I have no doubt of this, Jim.”
Jim is already in motion, unpacking bags and boxes in a flurry, thrusting an electric kettle at Spock as he digs deep into another one of the baskets. Somehow he has managed to squeeze a surprising amount of supplies into the back of the hovercar right under Spock’s nose. There is a piece of what looks like tinsel poking out of a box by the nightstand, while the corner of a cheerfully wrapped present peeks out of another near the door.
“Spock, come see what Santa brought you!”
Spock crosses his arms, drawing himself up as far as his three feet and two inches will get him.
“I find the idea of an obese Caucasian man in an outmoded snow vehicle delivering presents highly unlikely, Mother. Even if it were plausible on Earth, surely he is not equipped for the vacuum of space?”
His mother rolls her eyes and beckons. “It’s magic, Spock.” Her smile is wide, and he can never resist her, so he pads across the floor in his slippers to take the overstuffed stocking from her hands. She beams as he begins to empty it onto the floor, laying out the items by size and edibility.
“Here, Spock, get some water going.”
Spock startles at the sound of Jim’s voice, but Jim’s face is turned away.
“I’ve got hot chocolate here, and some marshmallows too, if I can find them… not to mention the Baileys.” He shows all his teeth as Spock takes the kettle from him, but the smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
Spock obediently fills the kettle and plugs it in, taking the two mugs provided by the motel and turning them upright before measuring the exact amount of cocoa mix prescribed on the box into each mug.
"Spock, whatever the box says? Double it."
Jim is not even looking at him, so Spock sighs, and doubles the amount of chocolate powder. A bag of small marshmallows lands with a gelatinous thump on the counter beside him, and he opens the top to count out thirteen marshmallows into the left-hand cup. Thirteen is Jim's lucky number; he's said so many times. Spock himself prefers multiples of four, and so twelve make their way into the second mug.
By the time the kettle whistles and Spock has added water and stirred, the flurry of action from the main part of the room has slowed. Spock hefts a mug in each hand and pads out of the kitchen-like alcove just as Jim flips off the lights.
The room is plunged into shadow, a dim cave lit only by the myriad twinkling lights projected from the boughs of the Christmas tree. Spock catches his breath at the sight, his throat suddenly constricted. It’s been a long, long time since he last saw the particular sparkle of tinsel gleaming with colored hues, and he misses his mother with a ferocity that startles him, making him lean against the wall for support until the wave of emotion abates.
“Father, what is the significance of placing a bird in the Christmas tree?”
He is five, and his father is holding him up to set a small flocked partridge on an upper branch. His mother is covering her smile with her hand.
“It is a reference to an old Terran song associated with the season.” Sarek catches Amanda’s eye with one of those looks that is the closest to a smile Spock has ever seen his father come. “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
Spock startles in his father’s arms at the sound of his voice. Sarek almost never sings. His mother joins in, moving around the replicated tree to their side.
“… a partridge in a pear tree!”
Jim is watching him silently, and Spock thinks that the look on Jim’s face is just a shade too close to anxiety, so he approaches the tree to give it a thorough inspection.
It is short; perhaps about a meter high. Jim has run strips of tape over the plastic base, affixing it to the top of the console at the end of the beds, raising the top to a little above head height. It’s more than a little bedraggled, the plasticene branches alternately drooping or bent at awkward angles. The lights are lovely; small and twinkly, even those that are strobing in uneven sequence. Ornaments cover the stiff boughs, running the gamut from what looks like a very antique mercury glass ball down to a carefully painted plastic snowman with the letters JTK written in wavery black marker on the bottom. Spock pinches a branch, inhaling as the replicated smell of pine straggles out of the decrepit scent producers on the ends of the needles. He steps back gently.
“It is a magnificent tree.”
Jim barks a laugh, and Spock turns, surprised.
“You don’t have to patronize, Spock. It’s a piece of crap old tree. In and out of its box for at least thirty years now.”
“It is unlike any other tree I have ever seen.”
Jim laughs again.
“Well, at least I can believe that.” He turns, heading for the alcove. “C’mon, Spock, your drink may be spiked, but mine’s not.”
Jim wraps his fingers around the neck of the bottle, his shoulders tight and high. Unscrews the cap, and begins to pour, when there’s an abrupt BOOM and the room is plunged into darkness.
“Oh, for the love of…really? Really?” Spock’s eyes are adjusting enough to see how Jim has slumped forward, hanging his head. “Really? We’re stuck in a hotel, in the middle of nowhere, and now the power’s gonna blow?”
He straightens his spine and lifts his hands from the counter, turning to face Spock.
“Hang on.” There’s a sound of rummaging, followed by a flare of light. Apparently even off the ship Jim is nothing if not prepared. Spock can make out the shape of an ancient cylindrical flashlight, the beam of which flashes wildly around the room as Jim goes rummaging through another of his mysterious containers. He emerges after a moment with a battery pack in one hand, and an old-fashioned LED lantern in the other, triumphantly snapping the pack into place. The lantern casts a reassuring amount of light, a haloed glow shining on Jim’s face as he raises the lamp up to look around the room.
“Well, I did bring extra blankets. But…” He trails off, looking worriedly at Spock’s face. “If it’s really out, it’s gonna get awful chilly in here, Spock.”
“Jim, I am sure that I will…”
A pounding on the door interrupts him, making him startle slightly. Jim holds his gaze for a moment, then pushes past him to peer out the small peephole. He grunts in vague annoyance, then opens the door to reveal the motel clerk rubbing his hands in front of him.
“Hey, um, so, you might have noticed, but, ummm…”
“Get to the fucking point , man.” Jim’s voice is hard. The man in front of him blinks dumbly, then continues.
“So, yeah. Power’s out. Can’t do anything about it. Commed the power company, they say it’s the temperature drop seizing up the transmitter cables all over, ain’t shit they can do about it either.”
“Mother fuck .”
“So, uh, yeah, you know. Bundle up.” The man leers at Spock. “Keep each other warm.”
Jim slams the door in his face before turning apologetically to Spock. His face is grim.
“Spock, I’m so sorry. I should never have brought you with me.” His face lingers for a moment in remorse, then clears into his capable captain mask. “Ok, so. We have to stay warm. We’ve got enough snacks and water that we’ll be fine that way. It’s just heat we have to worry about. So…” He spreads his hands in an open-armed gesture of apology. “I’m sorry, Spock, but we’re gonna have to share. I know you don’t want to, but it’s the best way to keep us both warm.”
“Jim. It would be illogical to object to something that will aid in our survival.”
It doesn’t come out quite right, Spock reflects, as he watches Jim’s face fall just a little. He looks accusingly at the half-empty mug in his hand. He blames the intoxicants.
“Well, I hate to say it, but we should probably change into our warmest, most comfortable clothes now. While there’s still some heat in here.” Jim turns, unzipping his Starfleet issue duffle. “Go ahead and get changed, and I’ll get all the extra blankets out.”
It takes only a few moments to situate themselves, clothed in sleepwear and under a pile of blankets. Jim lowers the luminous output to conserve the batteries, and then they are alone in the darkness.
A moment or three, and then Spock’s eyes are mostly adjusted. The room is dim, but not pitch-black; the moon is waxing near full, and even through the snow-bearing clouds, the luminescence of Earth’s celestial neighbor filters through the window.
Spock exhales, mesmerized by the shimmer of condensation puffed into existence in front of his mouth. He’s seen it before, but never at a moment when he has the time to appreciate it, to admire the elegant simplicity of temperature’s interaction with humidity and atmosphere, the loving interplay of fluid states. He exhales again.
“Spock, flip the switch already!”
He’s fourteen, and spending the first of several Christmases on Earth. His mother and father and the rest of the adults are all inside, drinking eggnog and playing cards, but his cousins have taken it upon themselves to make sure that he is acquainted with every possible Christmas tradition.
Tonight’s task was to run strings of colored lights around and up a large spruce tree in their grandparents’ back yard, a task to which Spock’s strength and agility are especially suited. He has shimmied all the way to the top and down, and is now standing at the base with the remote in his hand.
He’s not sure why he’s waiting; he’s seen lights on a tree before, after all, every year on Vulcan. But he’s never seen them outside; never seen them against snow and clouds and dark night sky.
His youngest cousin, Marie, is holding onto his arm, and she turns to smile up at him.
“Flip the switch, Spock.”
He smiles back, and flips it, and suddenly the yard is awash in color, the rest of his cousins cheering as the lights gleam against the moon-drenched snow. Marie clutches his arm, her mouth open in wonder, and Spock thinks he has never seen anything quite so beautiful as this night.
“It is a pity that the lights of the tree went out.”
Jim sighs from beside him, shifting his weight on the bed and pulling the covers slightly askew. Spock straightens them.
“Oh, Spock, you don’t have to be nice. It’s an ugly old tree.”
“It is not.”
“Spock. Be serious. There’s no way you could have liked that piece of junk. It was battered even before I shoved it in the trunk of the car for three hundred miles.”
Spock turns to face Jim, taking his chin in his hand to make Jim meet his eyes.
“Do not presume to tell me what I do and do not like.” He pauses. It is possible that he is slightly intoxicated. It is also possible that he does not care. “I like your tree. It is charming, and has character. I liked the little lights, and I am sorry that I cannot see them now that it is dark in here.”
Jim’s eyes are round, his mouth struggling to decide between a smile and a wince.
“Ok, fine. You like the damn tree. I got it.” He drops his head. “I am sorry, though, Spock. I should never have brought you with me.”
“Why not?” Spock finds he is genuinely curious. Jim is hiding something, has been from the start of the trip, and Spock finds that he would really like to know now what it is.
"I just… I kind of…” Jim’s voice trails off. He breathes in, out. “I jinx Christmas.”
“I jinx Christmas. It’s the truth.” Jim gestures in irritation. “It’s always been true. I try to ignore it, I try to write it off, but it’s just… no matter what, every Christmas I have, something goes wrong. I know this, I know it, but…” he sighs, buries his face in his hands so that Spock has to strain to understand his mumble, “… but I asked you anyway. And I shouldn’t have. I knew it was all going to go wrong, but I was selfish, and now you’re stuck here with me in the cold for god-knows-how-long when you could be off skiing with Sulu, or in Cancun with Nyota and Christine, or hell, I don’t know, visiting your family or something. I… I’m sorry, Spock. I didn’t mean to ruin your Christmas.”
Spock takes a moment to process this particular bit of superstitious rationalization. It catches him off-guard; he is… he thinks the word the Doctor would use is “flabbergasted”. Jim is usually so unflappable, so confident in the face of any obstacle sentient, inanimate, or anywhere in between, that it shakes Spock more than he’d like to admit to see his friend so determinedly self-denigrating.
“Jim… you know, of course, that such a thing is completely impossible.”
Spock tries to keep his tone gentle, but he can feel the mattress beneath them respond minutely as Jim draws even further into himself.
“Oh, I know.” He doesn’t sound bitter, or angry, or even hurt. Just… tired, Spock thinks. Worn down, and fatalistic. “I know. It’s illogical. But Spock, isn’t it logical to draw conclusions from patterns of evidence?” He’s gesturing now, his hands pale flashes in the dim room. “The first Christmas I existed was two weeks after my mom managed to get us all three out of a therapeutic ward following the Kelvin events. The first Christmas I can remember, my dog died. From eating a stash of chocolate I hid under the couch for later. Then there were the Christmases in foster care, the Christmas the house burned down, the Christmas Grandpa Tiberius died, and let’s not even talk about the Christmas on Tarsus, shall we?”
He’s clearly agitated, so Spock reaches out to place a hand on his leg, trying to project as much calm and reassurance as he can through the light touch.
“… and now…” Jim sinks back into himself. “And now I’ve brought you, a fucking desert creature , into the back of beyond to freeze stoically for days because I was too damn selfish to overlook the oh-so-logical pattern that dictates the butt-fucking of the Christmas spirit wherever I’m concerned.”
He pauses for a second, his breath soft in the chilling air, then moves quickly, unfolding from the bed and striding over to the window. He wraps his long arms around his torso, bare to the room as though in penance, his humid breath frosting on the glass pane in front of him.
“I’m really sorry, Spock.”
This, Spock thinks, is ridiculous, so he gathers the blankets around him like a cape and pads over to the window. Jim starts to turn, but Spock presses himself against Jim’s back, wrapping the blankets around them both as he encircles Jim firmly within his arms.
“Jim. Be silent.” Yes. It is quite likely that he is slightly inebriated. He gives a mental shrug and dismisses the matter. It is the holidays, after all.
Jim’s jaw has clacked shut, but Spock can still feel the waves of disappointment radiating off of his beautiful friend.
“Listen to me, Jim.” Spock rests his chin on Jim’s shoulder, pressing his cold ear to the heat of Jim’s neck. “Did it not occur to you that I am quite aware of what the weather conditions in this part of Earth were likely to be at this time of year?” He pauses, but Jim is still. “Did it not also occur to you that I am, in fact, an adult, and therefore more than capable of deciding whether or not I want to be somewhere?” Jim is tense and silent in his arms. “That, in fact, I have told you ‘no’ on numerous occasions? Jim… look.” He nods his head to the window, watches as Jim’s eyes travel to the heavens.
The clouds have opened, revealing a wine-dark sky littered with stars and stained with shimmering bands of color which bend and shift in ethereal motions eons old. Here and there a lone snowflake falls to ground, a tiny spark of light merging with countless others stretching as far to the horizon as the eye can see.
Jim’s mouth is open in wonder, his muscles suddenly lax with awe. Spock pulls him closer, tucking the blankets in tightly. Jim absently snuggles against his chest, and Spock feels as though he may transcend. He can hear his father’s voice in his ear, see his mother smile, her eyes warm in the dim light.
“Jim.” His breath is a whisper against his ear. “There is nowhere in the universe I would rather be. This is the best Christmas I could ever have imagined. And it is all because of you.” Jim snuggles against him again, his emotional current now broadcasting disbelief and wonder, so Spock presses his lips to the space just behind Jim’s ear, then turns his face back to the stars.
“Jim. This?” He breathes out, warm life into the frigid air. “…is beautiful.”