The phrase was being spoken everywhere and raucous laughter spilled from every rec room. The halls of the Enterprise were filled with crew members carrying highly-colorful packages to the main rec room. The scent of eggnog and evergreen trees permeated the ship. The main celebration would not be held until the following night, but for those off duty, it was entirely apparent that “good cheer” was already being partaken of, resulting in even more undignified behavior than usual.
Lt. Uhura stepped into the turbolift an instant before Spock stepped in beside her. She was wearing a most elaborate pair of bright red and green earrings, which, as he recalled, she had also worn precisely 365 Terran days ago, and had not worn at any point between the two dates.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Spock.” Lt. Uhura gave him a sunny smile. He identified the sensation he experienced at her words, at the specific tone of her voice, at the expression in her eyes, at the evidence of holiday exuberance all around him, as the unpleasant sensation he experienced every 365 Terran days. Spock always felt a certain disquiet at this time of the year, a reaction he put down to constant exposure to so much illogical activity.
He schooled his face to absolute stillness. “The customs of your Terran winter festival are most illogical,” he replied stiffly. “What is the purpose of creating, then killing, a lab-grown tree merely to encumber it with an enormous quantity of various ornaments and displaying it in an unnatural environment?”
She grinned, unfazed. “Because we enjoy it, Mr. Spock. And,” she added, “you said the exact same thing last year when we put up the Christmas tree.”
He felt an eyebrow lift. “True, but that does not deny its illogic.”
She got in the final blow. “It’s tradition.”
He could not argue that. They stepped out onto the bridge, which was mercifully free of the decorations infesting the rest of the Enterprise.
After shift ended, he considered going to the labs to check on various projects in process, then decided against that course of action. He knew that if he went there, he would subject himself to the frenetic energy of his staff, most of whom seemed to be spending a great deal of their time discussing the making of various gifts for other staff members. Obviously, none of them had their minds fully focused on their work. He felt a tinge of regret, combined with a sense of relief, that the Captain had not suggested dinner or chess. The Captain seemed fully involved in the holiday plotting; however, there had been an unproductive, distracting discussion between the two of them several days prior, and he still required meditation on a decision he must soon make.
He chose instead to retreat to his quarters, where he spent a fruitful night reading about the latest scientific discoveries on Arterius III. His attempt at meditation was less fruitful, and he opted for sleep instead, a sleep which was unpleasantly full of dreams….
…She appeared to him, wearing a simple veil and dress of the darkest forest green. He sat up in his bed, astonished at her presence, many light years from where she should be.
“Mother! What are you doing here?”
Amanda gazed into his eyes, a warm smile on her lips, sorrow in her eyes. She held out her hand to him.
He stood and grasped her hand, and she led him from his quarters on the Enterprise directly to his bedroom at their residence in Shikahr. She pointed to the stone table in his bedroom. There he was, his younger self, six Vulcan years of age, still able to smile back when his mother smiled at him. In the center of the table was a small, brightly-wrapped package and a piece of praxx cake, redolent with spices, which was placed on the decorative Terran plate she only brought out in celebration of this Terran festival. Spock remembered well its taste, a flavor he had not experienced in many years.
Spock watched Amanda as she watched, approvingly, as his younger self carefully slit the paper open, preserving as much as possible its integrity, and took out a holographic model of the galaxy. Spock remembered that model very well; he had kept it in pride-of-place in his room even after he grew older as a fine example of scientific illustration.
Spock’s younger self did not try to hide his pleasure with the gift. He admired its astonishing complexity, pointed out features of interest, then looked at Amanda and used the Terran-approved phrasing: “Thank you.”
Spock shivered as he felt himself reunite with his younger self. Amanda’s soft, cool fingers brushed against his cheek and he leaned into the touch for a moment, feeling more embraced by that simple touch than he ever did with the family link with his father. The cake was sweet on his tongue, his mother’s words were pleasing to his soul, and his father’s traditional absence on this date was also welcome.
He looked up from the table and suddenly he was separate from his younger self again, back in his quarters on the Enterprise.
His mother, now clothed formally in a gown and veils suitable for Ambassadorial receptions, stood before him, offering her hand.
“Mother, why did you show me this?” he asked.
“You told yourself you gave up these pieces of your past long ago,” she said, her face downcast. “Have you considered why they still make you suffer?”
“That is illogical,” he stated. She offered him a cryptic smile and led him back to his bedroom in Shikahr.
It was the Vulcan late-summer, this Christmas. The mismatch between the 365-day Terran year and the 465-day Vulcan year caused the holiday to appear at different seasons during Spock’s short life.
Spock saw his younger self seated at the stone table, his face betraying less emotion than it had 365 Terran days prior. His younger self was still six years old. Spock knew that he was less able to smile, and that he was more aware of the decision soon to be faced. Amanda’s face was brittle in her attempt to control her emotions.
Again, a brightly-colored package was displayed on the table, accompanied by a dish of late-harvest Sorbain fruit. Spock remembered the taste, startlingly sweet on the tongue. His younger self carefully unwrapped the package. He found the game within and a smile touched his lips as he looked up at Amanda. Spock remembered the game and his joy in anticipating the pleasure he would have in playing it. It had been a challenge that had taken him months to solve.
And then Spock merged completely with his younger self, looking up at his mother, not understanding why there was a trace of pain on her face, but pleased beyond understanding that that expression had vanished from her features, to be replaced with a joy as soon as he smiled at her.
He said “Thank you” to his mother. There was a brightness in her eyes which he didn’t want to acknowledge, and so he focused instead on the game.
He was abruptly standing at the other side of the chamber, his older self again. His younger self was now entirely engrossed in the game.
He turned to his mother, who was now dressed in robes of mourning.
“Mother, who has died?” he asked.
“Only part of myself,” she said.
“I do not understand,” he said.
“That is the crux of the matter,” she replied and gestured to the table. It was empty – no gift, no cake or fruit. He turned back to her, but he knew already that she was gone.
When he turned back to the table, his younger self was seated there, his face a careful mask, his posture controlled and rigid. His younger self was focused on a PADD. He recalled that he had been aware that night that the date had arrived for the Terran Winter Festival. However, when he had gone to his room, no gift and no cake awaited him on the stone table, and his mother had not been there. He was now seven years old. His Kahs Wan had passed. It was time to put such things aside.
Spock woke suddenly and sat up. It took him a moment to control his breathing. The illogic of emotion – the sheer variety of emotion – was always unsettling. The memory, in human terms, was a “happy” one, so why then did he feel something of what he categorized as “sorrow”?
Control. Control. He settled back down on his bed and arranged the covers for warmth. He closed his eyes and entered sleep…
He was standing in cold and darkness. Light illuminated one man and left everything else in inky shadow.
Kirk was standing in the spotlight, contemplating him, an expression of…what? sympathy? pity? on his face. Jim was dressed casually, in jeans and a plain green shirt. Spock tried to look past him, into the landscape beyond him, but all he could see where two pathways, diverging at 45 degree angles, disappearing into oblivion.
“Where are we, Jim?”
“Your choice.” Kirk nodded to the right and then to the left.
“But what are the destinations? I require more information.”
“I gave you all the information you need to make your decision last week.” Kirk’s face held the same expression Spock had seen 7.5 days prior.
Spock did not attempt to classify the emotion this memory triggered in him. He stared down one pathway, then the other, but they remained obscured. “I do not understand,” he admitted.
“Yes, you do.” That was Amanda’s voice, though there was no other trace of her presence.
“Jim?” He heard emotion in his voice and was ashamed.
Kirk indicated the path leading to the right: “Memory.” He kept his gaze on Spock as he gestured to the left. “Imagination.”
“Vulcans do not – “ Spock began. Kirk’s expression shifted to one of irony and weariness, and Spock left the words ‘have imaginations’ unsaid.
“Your choice,” Amanda and Kirk said in one voice.
He did not wish to repeat the previous week’s incident. But he could not stand still. Swallowing involuntarily, he shied away from the concept of imagination, and strode to the right.
— And Spock was in Kirk’s quarters, and the time was 7.5 days prior, and he was looking at himself who was looking at the Captain, and he did not want to hear this conversation. And yet he could not resist; there was no instant of transition; there was no differentiation between past and future. There was only one Spock, alive in the moment.
They were both seated. There were two cups on Kirk’s desk, coffee for Jim, tea for him. The monitors they had both been studying were now dark and silent.
“Sixty days left,” Kirk observed.
“Sixty one point five,” Spock corrected.
Kirk grinned. “Sixty one point five,” he said in a tone surprisingly gentle for simply conveying factual information. Spock felt his lips form a small smile.
Kirk stood up, paced restlessly in the small space. Spock sat in silence and stillness, as hyper-vigilant as if a Red Alert had sounded and they were under attack from all sides. He had lived through the end of a mission before. It hadn’t mattered as much then.
“You’ve been offered the captaincy of the Intrepid II,” Kirk said, pausing at the room divider, turning to meet his gaze.
“As I have so often stated, I do not desire a command of my own. That has not changed.” Spock kept his tone serene.
“I can find a place for you on my staff,” Kirk said, then quickly added, “That is, if that’s what you want to do?”
Spock chose to evade the question. “Have you chosen to accept the promotion?”
“Youngest captain… youngest admiral…” Kirk gave an ironic laugh. “I wasn’t shooting for a desk job. I want to be out here.”
“That may not be possible,” Spock stated, very well aware of the politics involved with Kirk’s promotion.
Kirk stopped on the other side of his desk. “I’ve never let that stop me before.”
“No. You have not.”
“I’ve accomplished everything I ever set out to do.” Kirk sat down opposite Spock. “But there’s always something more. I find I need something more. Space…” he gestured randomly, “…I will always want this. To be here. To explore. But now…” His gaze was laser-focused on Spock. “There are things I never thought to want, and find that I do. Things that I have been given…” his voice softened, “…and have accepted, and relied on, and come to expect as a given in my life. All without one word being spoken.”
Spock stared at him, unsure what was expected of him.
Kirk made a small sound, one Spock categorized as self-amusement. “I’ve always known what to say. Until now.”
Spock raised a brow. “An unexpected position for yourself.”
“Yes. It is.” Kirk took a deep breath. “Mr. Spock, over the past few years I’ve come to rely on you in every way. You’ve become more important to me than anyone I’ve ever met. Now our future is changing, and now I realize there’s something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. Something I should have said before now.”
Spock waited, feeling more tense than he had during any alien attack.
Kirk kept his gaze. “I’m in love with you. And I want to be with you. And I want to find a way to make that happen.”
Spock sat frozen and wordless. This confession was… not unexpected. Recent events had already revealed Kirk’s feelings for him. The mind touches he had experienced with Kirk during this past year, the forced entry into Kirok’s mind on Amerind, Kirk’s invitation to meld when he’d been trapped inside Janice Lester’s body… Those mental contacts had not left him in any doubt as to Kirk’s emotions regarding him.
Nor had these glimpses required a response, so he had not given one.
“I would like to ask you to marry me – in the Human way, the Vulcan way, or both,” Kirk continued, then stopped. And waited.
Spock had clearly mapped his future before, a future which revolved around space exploration and being on the cutting edge of new discoveries. Now, to his surprise, his focus had changed, entirely without his conscious will. And he found he was full of emotion. Emotion he identified as fear.
“I…” he began, swallowed, began again. “I am honored by your proposal. However, I cannot accept.”
Kirk’s eyes revealed everything – shock and sorrow, and an instant later, acceptance. “I understand.” Jim’s voice was quiet. “I apologize if I have disturbed you.”
“I…” Spock fiercely tried to force control on his tone and words. “During this past year, I found myself becoming more and more subject to emotion.” The words came slowly; even now, after all he had experienced, it was difficult to speak of matters like this. “We have been on many missions which required that I access emotion, and I am concerned over the implications of this loss of control.”
He dropped his gaze to his hands. A kaleidoscope of images flashed before him: the Romulan Commander, and how easy it was to compromise his ideals in the name of duty. The shattering mental collision with Kollos. The endless meditation required after their experience with the Platonians. The understanding in Gem’s eyes. Zarabeth, so recently lost; the revelation of the animal that lay inside him, and the realization that he must spend the rest of his life forcing this beast back into oblivion. “The... intensity... of what I... felt was a source of concern to me.”
“I understand,” Kirk said again. Odd, how Kirk looked so much older than he had mere moments ago.
“If you will excuse me…” Spock stood up.
“Of course. Good night, Spock.”
Spock walked out, rather more quickly than required. The sound of the door as it slid shut behind him was as final as he knew the whirr of the transporter beam would sound when it would take him away from the Enterprise forever.
He was back in the darkness again, but the paths were gone. Lightning lit a featureless landscape and chill blasts of wind enveloped him. He shivered, wrapping his arms around himself, feeling the cold sink its teeth into his bones.
Jagged lightning flashed, illuminating a figure standing before him, veiled from head to foot in grey, featureless in the dark. Lightning flared again, spotlighting the pale green-tinged hands holding out an offering to him.
Lightning again, illuminating the object: the symbol of pure logic.
Heat abruptly and completely surrounded him, soothing red light comforted his eyes, still dazzled by the lightning. He was on his knees in the stone forecourt of Gol, the Masters standing before him.
T’Sai intoned, “You have labored long, Spock. Now receive from us this symbol of total logic.”
She placed the chain bearing the Kolinahr symbol around his neck. He felt the burden of the stones against his chest, felt the emptiness as he cast out the last trace of emotion he felt for James T. Kirk.
When the ceremony concluded, he rose and walked through the open gate of Gol.
Time passed. Years. Decades. A century. The pattern of his older self’s life never changed. Each day, each hour, each minute, completely planned, with nothing left to chance.
The exterior of the monastery eroded from sandstorms, was rebuilt, eroded again. T’Sai died. Other masters were chosen. Never Spock.
Spock watched his other self age with these years, his face becoming a complexity of wrinkles with each year that passed; grey, then white overtaking his hair. No trace of emotion marred his features, no discordant notes entered the pure logic of his scientific research, conducted behind the walls of Gol, using data discovered by others in the vast reaches of space. Each paper that was published was impeccably written, devoid of speculation or insight into the implications of each discovery. Facts, untouched by creativity or imagination.
And there his other self was, near the end of two centuries of life, lying alone on his spare cot in his empty monastery cell. Spock watched his older self close his eyes, seeming to settle into sleep, then open them again, as if startled by an unexpected sound, though no such thing had disturbed the stagnant peace of Gol. His older self looked up at the blank ceiling above his cot, seeming to look beyond it for one fragment of time, and his lips formed a single word. His eyes closed again. He was still.
Spock felt a vast burst of emotion break inside him – too complex for human or Vulcan words. It seized him like a storm; he heard himself make ragged sounds; then found himself crouched on the ground sobbing, gasping, calling that very same word, that very same name.
He was back at the crossroads. Each path was clearly defined. Memory. Imagination.
He glanced at Kirk, then away again, not wanting to see the sorrow in Kirk’s eyes.
It is not Vulcan, to do such things. He felt Amanda’s ghostlike touch on his shoulder, soft as spider silk, images sticking to his mind. Sarek, twinned fingers touched to Amanda’s. Sarek, a softness in his face, only for his wife. Sarek, who never showed softness to others.
Liar. He knew who spoke. It was himself.
Eyes forward. He turned to face Kirk, though no one had spoken, flinching inside at the doubt in his captain’s eyes. Spock straightened to full military posture.
“Have you the courage?”
Fear was an emotion, and as such to be conquered. “Affirmative.”
“Do you?” Kirk gestured to the left-hand path.
Do you know why you’re not afraid to die, Spock?
Really, Doctor. He almost spoke the words. He met Kirk’s gaze, dead on, and took one step toward the leftward path –
— It was all a matter of construction. He’d consulted with the Caretaker on the mechanics of how the Shore Leave world functioned, and made his choices. It was surprisingly difficult to make these decisions, rooted as they were in his denied dreams and driven entirely by the illogic of emotion. Yet he persevered in constructing mental images of various scenarios in which he might accept what he’d seen in Kirk’s mind during those melds. He wished to construct a place that Jim would enjoy, and considered the glimpses he’d had of Wrigley’s and Risa when the Enterprise had made port at those notorious pleasure planets.
Those choices would not be functional; he would not be able to make the necessary visualizations to bring them to life. He did not belong there. Jim would not expect to find him there.
Jim also liked fresh air, unspoiled planets. He concentrated, gave the Caretaker the image in his mind.
Spock reclined on a beach chair, enjoying the warmth of the sun. Cool weather for Vulcan; Jim would probably enjoy the temperature. An empty beach chair was positioned next to his. Tall drinks awaited. A white sand beach stretched away in either direction, hugging the contours of the vivid blue lake. Sweeping around and behind the lake, numerous tall coniferous trees marched up the mountainsides.
Water splashed, and Jim emerged from the lake, gloriously nude. He favored Spock with a blinding smile and bounded up the beach in his direction. Spock rose, realizing he, too, was naked.
Jim captured his mouth in a kiss, pressing his sturdy body, his robust erection against Spock’s. Pleasure shot through Spock, and he rubbed against Kirk. Hands and mouths were everywhere; the glorious friction of their cocks igniting a conflagration that destroyed all thought.
He was lying on a blanket on the sand, shattered by the aftermath of orgasm. He had, he realized, a blissful smile on his face. Kirk was leaning on an elbow next to him, smiling at him, absently trailing his fingers in the sand.
No, not absently. Purposefully. Kirk was writing with the tip of his index finger. Spock craned his head to see.
Will you, the sand letters spelled, marry me?
Kirk smiled expectantly.
Spock opened his mouth – and found he could not speak –
Spock awoke, gasping for breath. Images from his dreams washed over him, and he was grateful for the privacy of his quarters.
The chronometer reported he was on schedule. He arose, performed his morning routine, and headed to the officers’ mess.
The phrase was everywhere, and this room too was filled with decorations. The human taste for ornamentation had seemingly penetrated every corner of the ship. Lt. Masters and Lt. Barrows were wrapping gifts by hand and were engaged in an animated discussion. The colors and patterns on one package – so like one his mother had given him when he was a child - stirred a pang of regret, a wish to make amends.
Kirk was not there. Spock consumed his breakfast quickly and went to the bridge.
At the end of shift, Kirk reviewed the holiday schedule with the beta shift who had arrived to fill their posts. There would be enough break times for everyone to attend some portion of the party, and people were practically vibrating with anticipation and excitement.
Spock left with the others. Kirk did not seek out his gaze, but engaged in discussion with Mr. Scott until the turbolift let them off at their chosen level.
In his quarters, he contemplated what to do. Would it be appropriate to give Kirk a gift? One beautifully wrapped, like the ones his mother had given him before he’d chosen a different path?
But he had nothing.
You do have something.
Illogical. He was not dreaming. And that voice in his mind was not Amanda’s, nor Kirk’s.
It was his own.
He allowed himself to slip into a habit he’d lost as a child – daydreaming. And then he knew what to do.
The noise level was high when he entered the main rec room. All the colorful packages had been opened, and much alcohol had been consumed. People were dancing, laughing, talking loudly, admiring each other’s gifts.
Kirk was in the middle of a knot of people. This was the first time Spock had seen Kirk off the bridge since their discussion. He was, as McCoy would say, “the life of the party”, giving each individual his full attention for a minute or so. Spock was struck again at his ability to entirely focus on one person at a time, as if that person were the center of the universe. Spock observed for several minutes, and noted an interesting observation: Kirk never gave any of the people around him quite the same expressions as he had always seemed to reserve for Spock alone.
He stepped closer. People shifted and moved and then there was an empty space between them. Kirk finished a discussion and glanced in his direction.
His face grew still, haunted by sadness, touched with surprise. Then he forced a dazzling smile, one, Spock was certain, would deceive anyone not able to decipher the emotions that remained in Kirk’s eyes. And that was a revelation to Spock – how well he could read this human. Or perhaps not. He understood now he had known how to read this human for a very long time.
“Mr. Spock, I thought attending Christmas parties was an illogical human tradition.”
“Logic,” he said, paused, plunged on, “is not everything.”
The look on Kirk’s face was one he’d never witnessed before.
He did not presume to close the gap between them. He would offer the gift. Kirk would either accept, or he would spend the rest of his life excising this emotion from his mind.
“I wish to revise my answer to the issue we discussed in your quarters 8.5 days ago,” Spock said simply. “Might we discuss this in your quarters at your convenience?”
Kirk’s eyes lit with hope and a dazzling smile transformed his face. He stepped close to Spock, then closer, so there was barely a gap of a few inches between them. He felt the warmth of Kirk’s aura surround him.
“It’s convenient now, Mr. Spock.” Kirk’s voice softened the words, made them a caress.
Spock shivered in anticipation, and felt a wave of relief swamp his mind. He allowed a smile to touch his lips, and Kirk’s smile transformed into the one he gave to Spock alone.
Forgiven, he thought. Loved.
Kirk was speaking again, to the people surrounding them, wishing them a happy holiday and a good evening.
Then he brushed Spock’s shoulder with one hand. Spock fell in beside him, and side by side, they walked through the crowd and into the corridor beyond.