Jim shivered and winced when another icy gust of wind blasted him, the snow blown against his exposed skin feeling more like daggers than the white fluff he remembered it being from his childhood. His eyes opened to find his own heavy breaths visible before his face and when he reached the next corner, he peered up at the street sign with a squint to gauge his current location.
From his place on the rubber assembly line, Jim’s first glimpse of the snow had been in the early afternoon, through large panes of filthy warehouse windows. It’d fallen gently at the beginning, with large flakes dusting the streets of New York in a sheen of pearly white before turning dark gray from automobile and foot traffic.
And then it’d really started to come down, blanketing the city quickly with no sign of relenting any time soon.
Tensing his shoulders, Jim withdrew his stiff hands from the too-thin pockets of his coat and brushed the moisture from his hair with fingers that felt more like icicles than flesh. It wouldn’t be long now, he vowed to himself. He just needed to keep trudging through the ankle-deep accumulation—needed to keep ignoring the holes in his shoes and clothing until he arrived back at the tenement.
Trying anything to make his situation more bearable, Jim imagined the feeling of the rag wet with boiling kettle water that he would use to warm himself upon returning. The method was ancient and outrageously cumbersome compared to technology on the Enterprise, but since the ship and that time itself no longer existed, it was all Jim had. He humbly accepted his fate, knowing well enough that convenience and luxury were rarities in this dismal age of poverty.
The sole source of warmth in the room he rented with Spock was a small cast iron stove. They were considered lucky to even have a small faucet to go along with it; however, no temperature control at the tap meant water needed to be manually heated over a fire. There was one communal room on each floor of the apartment building with shared facilities. It included a metal wash bin for laundry and bathing, but no efficient way to do either task without hot running water.
He’d dealt with the hardships of this life as best he could. And while the newspapers had been reporting the arrival of a blizzard, nothing could have ever prepared Jim for what found himself immersed in now. Every so often, he’d meet another unfortunate passerby who hurried along with a hand clutching his jacket close and looking just as miserable as the picture Jim knew he, himself, made.
History texts did a poor job of painting the real portrait of 1930’s America, if only because Jim had never seen it described as hell on earth. And yet that’s exactly where he felt he was…only his body was burning from the freezing cold instead of fire. His cheeks, lips, and ears hurt most of all from the direct exposure, and Jim tried as hard as he could to push what he couldn’t control to the back of his mind.
At last, the doors to the apartment building came into sight and despite their dingy, dark paint, they never looked more welcoming than that moment. Jim hurried to them in desperation with large puffs of air falling from his lips as he fumbled with his keyring.
The wind had blown deep piles of snow onto the stoop and as he tried to stagger up the buried cement stairs quickly, his heart nearly leaped out of his chest when he slipped. Jim’s hand shot out to the iron railing covered with ice and held on tightly to regain his balance. His keys fell somewhere, he could barely feel his limbs any more, and that was when he finally allowed himself to groan loudly.
A shaky hand reached into the snow, retrieved the ring, and he finally stepped up to the entrance. Jim guided the key to the hole, watching in frustration as it scratched the surface several times from how he trembled before it slid in.
Another moan followed to grant his suffering its own voice when Jim threw his shoulder into the door while simultaneously turning the handle. At last! Before him lay shelter from the harsh weather he’d fought through for a sixteen block walk. He felt near hysteria at the sight, irrationally thinking that his feet couldn’t possibly move fast enough to get him up those stairs and out of the cold. Jim stumbled inside, slamming the entrance closed by falling back against it and breathed deeply with his eyes closed.
A creak from somewhere high up rang out, followed by the familiar pattering of feet running down the stairs.
“Mister Kirk?” Edith’s cordial voice echoed as the soles of her shoes hit the old steps of the musky stairwell. “Mister Kirk!” Finally, she turned the corner and came into view at the landing before the last flight. “Goodness!” she exclaimed and rushed down.
Jim pushed himself up to stand straight and ran his hands through his wet hair again before finding the bolt behind him and securing the door. “Hello,” he panted as she arrived before him with a towel in hand. “You’ll have to forgive me…” Jim’s brows raised. “…Not exactly at my best here.”
“You poor thing!” Edith remarked, handing him the towel. “Why, you’re frozen from head to toe!”
“Thank you,” Jim replied over an exhalation as he accepted the offer, immediately pressing the soft material to his face and then tossing it over his head to rub vigorously. When he pulled it away, he quickly addressed the disheveled nature of his blond locks and smoothed them out.
“I just happened to be looking out the window and watching the snow fall when I saw you.” Edith held her hand out to the stairs. “Come. You need to warm up.” Jim stamped his feet to shake off the loose snow on his shoes and clothes, and side-by-side, they began to climb. “You know, this is why they’re expanding the subway system. Expecting good people to travel on-foot through this kind of weather is nothing short of horrible.”
“It’s a pleasant thought,” Jim offered as he tried to stop himself from shivering so violently. His teeth chattered anyway. “But sadly, thoughts offer very little comfort in the face of reality.”
“Now isn’t that the truth…” Arriving on the second landing, Edith turned to him. “Well, here you are, Mister Kirk. Please take care of yourself. Warm up!”
“Thank you, again.” Jim’s quivering chapped lips curved into a smile and he held the towel up. “I’ll wash this for you on laundry day and return it after.”
“Oh, nonsense,” she retorted, lifting her hand abruptly and yanking it away from him. The corners of her mouth twitched into a smile. “If only all the men were like you.”
Jim stuffed his hands back into his pockets and his grin softened. “If only…”
Edith’s face barely cocked to the side, her eyes falling to the floor for a moment before meeting Jim’s again. “I realize you need to get inside, but…”
“It’s no matter,” he offered with honest interest in what she had to say. “Go on.”
“Do you have plans for tomorrow?”
Raising his brows, Jim pulled his mouth into a line and shook his head. “Besides working in the kitchen? No. Why do you ask?”
“Well, you see…my sister, Barbara, is visiting from Detroit, and I wonder if you would like to join us for Christmas dinner. I’m certain you’d both get along very well.”
“Just the three of us?” Despite the cold, Jim regarded her warmly when she nodded, and hesitated for a beat. “I’m beyond flattered, Miss Keeler, but there’s a problem…”
The pleasant look on her face immediately melted into worry. “What is it?” Her whisper was laden with concern.
“My friend,” Jim said with sincerity. “If I join you, he won’t have anyone to spend the holiday with. And believe me, as much as I’d love to be with you and to meet your sister, I can’t do that to him.”
“Mister Kirk…” Edith’s lower lashes barely raised as she studied him, pulling the towel close to her breast and very slowly shaking her head in wonder. “You are truly an admirable man. Truly.” She stared into his eyes for several seconds before huffing abruptly. “Oh, forgive me! Here I am still talking your ears off while you freeze. Please, go in and warm up.”
“Sure,” Jim replied, his voice tender through his discomfort. “Good night.”
“Good night,” she bade, just as gently. “And Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.” Jim watched her lightly turn on the pads of her feet and begin to ascend to her apartment on the third floor. His gaze fell for a moment of thought but he could no longer ignore the wet clothes or his shivering. He turned to the door, unlocked it, and pushed to no avail.
“This again…” he muttered beneath his breath and gave it another shove.
Jim saw the handle turn from the inside and stepped back as the door was dislodged from where it had been jammed. Spock stood before him in the entrance, bundled up in his coat and hat, and spoke a cordial greeting. “Captain.”
“Hi, Spock.” Jim offered a tiny smile and stepped into their room illuminated by the combination of a dirty overhead electric light, candles, and an old oil lamp. As Spock locked up after him, the realization hit that the temperature inside their room exactly matched that of the hallway. Jim lifted his chin then and looked over to the dark stove. “Spock, you didn’t light it?!”
“It is wasteful to consume resources when I am the only one present.”
“I don’t want to hear it!” Jim exclaimed. He wiggled out of his wet coat and tossed it over the hanger in the corner, immediately setting off to the small stove and tossing a few chunks of wood inside. “It’s freezing in here!” As he began to ignite the fire, he looked over his shoulder to find Spock returning to his chair by the window. “Did you really stay here all day like this?”
After taking his seat before the circuit board he had been constructing at the table, Spock looked over to Jim. “Captain, I assure you. I have regulated my body temperature over the hours.”
Repressing a sigh, Jim made quick work of filling the kettle with water from the tiny faucet and setting it on top of the stove to heat. “Spock, you’re sensitive to cold by nature. Does it really make any sense for you to sit here and freeze?”
The sight of those pointed dark brows raising was the immediate indication that Vulcan sass was to follow. “I believe I have already offered sufficient explanation.”
When it became obvious that the conversation would end in a stalemate, Jim huffed and began undoing the buttons and zippers of his wet clothes. It’d been bizarre at first, falling into a domestic life with Spock of all people. Jim hadn’t ever been self-conscious about being seen scantily clad, but stripping his garments off piece by piece in front of someone as reserved and proper was a different story altogether—but mostly, it was attributable to Jim’s certain unspoken feelings for him.
Though Jim hadn’t ever confessed his regard, he could easily predict the disaster that would follow if he did. From his experience, Spock hadn’t ever seemed outwardly intrigued by his presence (or lack of clothing, for that matter) and Jim was convinced that his interests lied much deeper in the electronic components he was working on than his body. With that, he peeled the attire clinging to his frame off until he stood in his briefs.
Jim’s skin felt raw from the beating he took, courtesy of both the cold and unrelenting wind. Trying to ignore the painful red blotches discoloring his figure, he reached for a nearby, worn-out towel and began to dry himself before the small fire. Shortly after, he laid out his wet clothes and shoes neatly beside him so they could do the same.
“The weather is harsh,” Spock finally commented, his attention heavily focused on his work. “I regret that you must travel in it, only to provide me with sustenance and materials.”
“Regret, Spock?” Tossing the towel aside, Jim reached beneath the bed and retrieved his Starfleet uniform tunic, socks, and trousers. When he stood up again, he smiled without looking at his friend and began slipping into each article, starting with the trousers. “Isn’t it illogical to regret what we can’t change?”
“On the contrary, there is no logic in wishing for different conditions,” Spock replied. “But as for regret, Captain, it is plausible in this situation. I do not derive pleasure from seeing you suffer on my account.”
“What was it that Bones always said? A little suffering is good for the soul, right?” Jim wrestled a sock over each foot, and then made his way back over to the stove. He held his hands in front of it. “Besides, it’s on my account, too. We both need to eat. Speaking of which…have you?”
“Vulcans do not require—”
Jim closed his eyes and finally allowed himself to sigh. “I get it,” he interrupted and then repeated himself in a gentler tone. “I get it. You want to conserve as much as possible. You think that’ll somehow make up for me having to work. But, Spock, don’t you see that you’re working too?”
“What I am attempting to accomplish requires much effort.” A brow shot up. “And creativity. However, I am not traversing a thirty-two block round trip on foot for five straight days, sometimes in undesirable conditions.”
“Says the Vulcan achieving the impossible with stone knives and bearskins—and in the cold by choice, no less.”
Jim picked up the towel he’d discarded before, and used one end to wrap around the handle of the kettle. He carefully removed the boiling water from the hot plate and poured it into a small metal bucket beside the stove. Just before the kettle was emptied, he stood and divided the remainder across two cups on the nearby table. A teabag was dropped in each and he picked one up.
“Here,” Jim said gingerly, offering it to Spock with a small smile.Their eyes remained locked for several moments—perhaps too long, Jim decided—before he turned back to the stove. Huddling close to the fire, Jim kneeled before the bucket he’d filled with hot water, and submerged part of the towel. He withdrew it and allowed it to cool slightly before he wrung the excess water out and applied the warmth to his face.
Simple pleasures—he groaned into the heat. Indeed, this life was incomparably difficult to the luxuries they had in their own time, but Jim was someone who had learned to appreciate the little things long ago. He lowered the fabric from his face and his expression became serious. They would need to return to then, to the Enterprise, at any cost. There was no way they could keep up this charade for the rest of their lives.
Submersing the towel again, he repeated the same actions as he thought about this. Still, Jim could find something good in nearly any situation and he decided that at least for now, he could derive some comfort in being able to live so closely with Spock. This was the nearest he would ever come to having a relationship with him. His lips twitched into a small smile and his lashes fell. He was okay with that.
…and completely oblivious to the dark eyes watching him longingly from behind.
Spending any holiday at a dinner table was a luxury only for the privileged.
Jim and Spock had been on their feet for hours, manning the Mission and providing free meals of soup and bread to anyone who showed up between the hours of twelve and six. They took turns switching between running the serving line and washing dishes (a feat unto itself, since it involved filling pots with water, then boiling them to heat it, and vigorous scrubbing) until finally, all the soup was gone and the front door had been locked.
From a shelf beneath the serving station, Jim withdrew the two bowls he’d set aside and carried them out on a tray to where Spock was now sitting.
“Well, it’s better than nothing but this is some holiday meal, huh?” Jim asked with a smile as he placed a bowl before Spock and then slipped in the chair across from him. He didn’t notice Spock’s eyes quietly upon him when he took hold of the bread and broke it. “Here,” he said, handing one half over the table.
Jim’s stomach growled loudly. He felt his cheeks color at the sound and picked up his spoon to stir the soup. It was a mostly clear chicken broth with a smattering of carrots and potatoes—certainly better than starving, he reminded himself—and just as he was about to dive in…
“You should have accepted Miss Keeler’s invitation.”
The utensil hit the bottom of the bowl and Jim looked up to find Spock stirring his own. “Ah…you heard that,” Jim affirmed quietly, looking off to the side. His shoulders raised when his spine straightened. Dismissively, he laughed it off. “It’s nothing, Mister Spock. I couldn’t leave you alone on a holiday with only clear soup and bread while I would be eating…who knows. Something better than this.”
A deflated sigh made its way out of Jim’s lips at the sorry state of the meal they were sharing.
Spock shook his head. “I do not understand. I have spent many days exactly as this one alone.”
“That’s not the point, Spock,” Jim insisted. “We only have each other now. We’re as close to family here as either of us is going to get and this is all we have. I couldn’t just leave you, and more than that I didn’t want—”
The abrupt banging of fists on the front window interrupted Jim and he exchanged a glance with Spock before rising. He approached the entrance carefully and unlocked it to find a middle-aged man with a wiry, overgrown beard and worn-out clothing standing there.
A shiver wracked Jim’s frame from the icy air that blew by him. “I’m…sorry, the Mission is closed.”
“Buddy, please!” the man begged, slapping his hand to the wooden frame of the door so it couldn’t be shut in his face. “Please, I’m beggin’ ya. If ya got anything at all ta’ eat, I’m beggin’ ya! This is the fourth joint I been ta’ that’s turnin’ me away and I got no otha’ place ta’ go.”
Jim’s eyes softened as the inner ends of his brows lifted. All the soup for the day had been given out already, and the only bit of it left was in the bowls that belonged to Spock and him. Jim hesitantly looked over his shoulder, at the meal he was about to eat.
His stomach growled in protest to what his heart told him to do. He ignored it.
“All right,” Jim agreed, pulling the door open. The man’s desperate eyes widened and he stumbled inside from the cold.
“God bless you!” he cried, running straight to the stove to warm up.
Jim walked to his chair and picked up his untouched bowl of soup and bread. He relocated them, leaving them at the end of the table nearest to the man, and then returned to his seat without meeting Spock’s gaze.
“Captain,” Spock whispered.
“It’s cold outside,” Jim murmured, staring at the empty space before him on the table before he saw Spock’s bowl sliding in his direction. He looked up.
“Please eat half.”
“In your own words, Captain,” Spock interjected quietly, “this is all we have left.”
Jim stared into Spock’s eyes for several moments before he peered at the soup. With his chin dropping in a silent nod, he lifted the spoon and began to eat.
By the time the arduous jobs of cleaning up and cutting carrots and potatoes for the next day were finished, it was late into the evening. The temperature’s further drop was accompanied by the falling of heavy snow and a wind chill that made it feel even more frigid than it already was. Once again, Jim found himself surrounded by a world of white, combatting gusts of arctic air that clobbered against his exposed skin and penetrated the thin attire he wore.
Pendant arc streetlights lining the sidewalks glowed a blurry haze to light their journey home. Despite the harsh conditions, the trip to the tenement from the Mission was a mere pleasure stroll at five and a half blocks…at least when compared to the walking distance of the rubber factory. Jim wasn’t comparing, however; in fact, he was infinitely more concerned this time with how the rough weather was affecting Spock rather than his own grievances.
Their clothing was severely light for these conditions—no extra warm layers, no gloves, no scarves, no comfortable socks. They couldn’t even wear the boots from their own time; explaining how two impoverished people came to own pairs of sturdy shoes made from a presently unidentified material was something neither Jim nor Spock could risk.
Jim pushed his arms against his sides tightly as he shivered, knowing that no matter how cold he felt, Spock’s body was affected at least two times worse than his own. If it would’ve meant anything at all, he would have willfully fought his way to the factory and back three times in a row tonight to spare Spock the need to be outside in this storm.
But as he’d said to Edith earlier, thoughts with good intentions were simply just thoughts in the end, and had no impact on the current situation. Perhaps what he’d been thinking had influenced him this time, though, as Jim’s concern pushed his feet to power forward even faster. He had to get Spock inside, and soon.
With his teeth chattering against his will, Jim looked up over his shoulder to gauge his friend’s state. Spock’s lean face was stained with deep patches of dark olive, spreading across his cheeks and nose. His lips also trembled, but his dark eyes remained forward as though he were entranced; Jim chalked that up to a deep concentration which allowed him to just keep carrying on.
It was likely that a human in this age would have reasoned the alarming shift in Spock’s typical pallor was due to sickness and nothing more—likely, but with tensions running high, Jim couldn’t be sure. Fortunately, there was no one else around to test that theory. Unfortunately, the tradeoff of that was being stuck combatting a massive snowstorm on foot.
The sidewalks had been shoveled when the sun was out earlier, but partial melting coupled with the low temperature made even places protected from snowfall difficult to get through. Jim felt the worn soles of his shoes slipping several times as they passed beneath awnings which now covered sheets of ice instead of cement.
After blocks of struggling against the elements…after marching onward to the sounds of loud heaving, snow crunching beneath their feet, chattering teeth, and his own thoughts that were too loud, relief flooded Jim when the doors to their building came into sight.
“We’re—we’re almost…” he panted, his chin and jaw numb, “…there.”
They made their way across the silent street, and Jim was first to cautiously climb the cement stoop. “Careful,” he warned over his shoulder, hoping to avoid either of them repeating the fall he’d taken yesterday in this spot, before retrieving his keys and quickly unlocking the front door. He held it open for Spock to slide in and the rush of frigid wind that tore by sent Jim tumbling right after.
It could’ve been the ice or the numbness in his legs or the tiredness of his body that had Jim’s feet tripping over each other as he stumbled through the doorway. In his flailing to catch his balance, his right arm was firmly grasped at the elbow and Jim felt himself pulled in Spock’s direction while the entrance slammed shut on its own.
Jim’s eyes shut tightly in reflex before his forehead hit Spock’s snow-covered chest with a thud and then the only sound was the choppy echoes of their shivered heavy breaths. Too tired and worn to care, Jim remained pressed against Spock for several seconds too long before he remembered exactly where he was.
His hands instantly shot out, palms slapping hard upon the wall he’d unintentionally shoved Spock against, and Jim launched himself backward. He tripped for several steps before reestablishing his footing and then his eyes focused.
The hallway was barely lit by streetlight in front of their building, but only seeing Spock’s silhouette was enough for Jim to recognize how his figure trembled. Without words, he immediately reached for Spock’s arm and pulled him in the direction of the stairs.
Still heaving from their endeavors, Jim climbed to the second landing with his own discomfort pushed to the back of his mind. His first and foremost concern was Vulcan sensitivity to cold, and just how badly this trip had affected Spock. Surely, he could regulate his body temperature while at rest and sitting in his chair for hours, but to fight his way through a blizzard?
Jim dug the keys out of his pocket, his numb fingers struggling to pick the right one out. With a shaky grasp, he finally succeeded in unlocking their door and turning the handle—only to find it stuck once again.
“No, damn it,” Jim snapped beneath his breath. If it was just himself, then he’d deal with the issue calmly but his brain fired off a red alert which insisted that Spock needed to warm up as soon as possible.
Without a second thought, he slammed his shoulder into the door as hard as he could muster—once and then twice before it swung open. Jim grunted, feeling a dull sensation of pain and knew that he’d wake up with bruises in the morning, but for Spock’s sake, it would be worth it.
His hand found the light switch and he flipped it to brighten the one-room dwelling, immediately making a beeline directly for the stove. As he opened the front grate and shoved fresh pieces of wood inside, the sound of Spock locking the door grabbed Jim’s attention.
“Spock, here. Sit,” he urged, reaching for a pack of matches and striking one ablaze. He touched the flame to the wood in three different places before a healthy fire started and then shook his hand to extinguish the match.
“Captain,” Spock whispered. “I assure—” He lifted his chin, trying to speak louder. “I assure you—”
“Shh, take that wet coat and hat off and sit. That’s an order.”
With that, Jim followed his own advice as well. Their cold hands grazed over their individual outerwear, undoing the fastenings and finally pulling the damp garments free from their bodies.
“Go on,” Jim pressed, taking Spock’s coat with his own and hanging both up in the corner to dry off. As he turned on his heels, he found Spock lowering to his knees before the stove and leaning in toward its heat.
Jim approached slowly, feeling sympathy for his friend and undoing the line of buttons on his plaid shirt with his shaky fingers as he moved. Bolstering himself against the cold, he slid it off his arms and then placed the garment over Spock’s shoulders. He ignored the look of near surprise he received.
“Captain—” Spock began.
“It’s okay,” Jim quietly assured, not staying beside him long enough to allow further argument. Left only a white undershirt now, he tightened his muscles and ignored the temperature while turning to the one bed that wasn’t covered in electronic equipment. He ripped the thin blanket off and draped the flimsy material over Spock.
The kettle was filled and placed atop the stove and at last, Jim kneeled beside Spock before the fire and slipped one edge of the blanket over his own shoulders. Groaning, he shivered and leaned in closer to the heat.
“This life is insane,” Jim plainly stated and closed his eyes, already feeling minutely better from his proximity to the stove.
“It is most…” Spock swallowed through his pause. “…different from what we are both accustomed to.”
They both sat together in silence with their arms touching, indulging as the fire and their collective warmth beneath the blanket began to slowly ease their struggle against a winter they weren’t anywhere near prepared for.
The relief didn’t come fast enough, however, and as he shivered, Jim suddenly whispered, “I’m gonna kill him.”
He felt the blanket move as Spock turned to see his face, obviously caught off guard by his meaningless threat. Jim’s lips twitched upward. “Bones,” he clarified softly. “Even though it’s not really…” He paused to pull the blanket even closer to him, and then finished his thought at a louder volume. “It’s not his fault at all.”
Spock simply swallowed again with his lips barely quivering, and Jim felt his features soften at the sight.
“Spock…” Jim’s voice dropped to a gentle tone and his eyes landed on the barely trembling hands Spock had latched to his thighs. Jim licked his lips quickly and then met Spock’s gaze again when an idea formed.
“Spock,” he repeated, just as tenderly as before. “Let me help you. Can I?” He laid his palm atop one of Spock’s hands and waited for consent.
As touch telepaths, Jim was aware that Vulcan hands were incredibly sensitive, but if he could help Spock warm up, then breaching the no touching rule would be acceptable just this once.
With his dark eyes barely widening and his breath hitching slightly, Spock froze like a deer in headlights before his chin dipped in a tiny nod. Gently, Jim took both slender hands and began to rub them gingerly with his own to generate warmth. His fingers brushed carefully across Spock’s as if they were made of lace.
Despite Spock using his hands constantly to work on his difficult task here, Jim found the skin to be smooth and supple—incredibly delicate compared to his own digits that had become calloused from the labor which put only a tiny amount of food in their icebox. Concerned that his rough skin would be too abrasive, Jim leaned his face down to blow a hot breath across Spock’s cold fingertips.
Spock’s face snapped toward the flames then, his body becoming awkwardly stiff. Though he made no attempt to pull away, Jim immediately wondered if that last action overstepped a boundary and released the elegant hands from his grasp. They quickly slipped back to Spock’s side, and Jim watched as Spock pulled the collar of the plaid shirt draped over him closer.
“Spock, I’m—” Just as Jim was about to apologize, the kettle began whistling and a sigh left him. He shrugged the cover off of his shoulders and tucked it around Spock before he stood. Retrieving the towel, he removed the kettle and poured the hot water into the metal bucket he’d used the day prior. Jim dragged it in front of the stove so that there would be moisture in the air and lowered to his knees again.
“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, turning to look at Spock.
Jim observed how Spock’s tongue poked out to wet his lips before he replied. “There is no need to apologize.”
“I know how sensitive your hands are, but—”
Spock’s face turned to him then. “Do you?”
“I do. I’m really sorry if I made you uncomfortable, Spock. I was hoping to help but…”
Spock simply shook his head before he unwrapped one end of the blanket from around him. He held it out as an invitation for Jim to join him again. “It is of no consequence.”
Jim hesitated before he tossed the cover around his shoulders again and finally sat back to take the pressure off his kneecaps. The floor was hard and unforgiving, and he surmised he’d quickly grow uncomfortable, but anything seemed better than kneeling at this point. Beside him, Spock also lowered to sit.
“I am…curious, however,” Spock continued as he returned his attention to the stove. There was an awkward formality in his speech and Jim quirked a brow. “Captain, are you aware of the significance…?”
Jim’s long lashes blinked as he studied the angles which formed Spock’s attractive profile. When the thought was left hanging long enough without an answer, he asked, “Of?”
“Um…” Jim began. It seemed like a trick question. “Of course. You’re a touch telepath. Your palms and fingers collect sensory data when necessary. That’s…” he trailed off, his eyes wandering away before returning to Spock. “…common knowledge, isn’t it?”
“I was referring to the…cultural significance,” Spock specified, and then clarified even further. “Of touching hands in such a way.”
Jim suddenly began to realize that the healthy color dusting its way across Spock’s cheeks wasn’t just an indication that he was warming up. With his eyes widening, it dawned on him that he’d done something inappropriate; to what extent, he wasn’t sure, but if it was causing Spock to blush then...
“I—I’m really sorry, Spock,” Jim stammered. “I had no idea I was crossing some kind of cultural boundary. I won’t do it again.”
Curiously, Spock’s shoulders might have very slightly slumped at that. For as much as Jim wanted to press the issue and ask exactly what he’d done just then, it was against his better judgement. Their success now more than ever relied on their friendship and trust, and from how uncomfortable the atmosphere had become between them suddenly, Jim decided that satisfying his curiosity would need to wait. Vulcan culture was so secretive and filled with an alarming number of taboos; when they returned—if they returned—he would research his faux pas. For now, he turned back to the stove and decided it was a good time to change the subject.
“So, you never told me anything about your family.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your family,” Jim repeated with a smile, lifting his chin and meeting Spock’s eyes. “Do you celebrate any holidays?”
Spock’s lips pulled inward for a moment as he shook his head. “No. There are certain…” He paused to consider the correct terminology. “…achievements that a Vulcan might memorialize, but they are one-time events which typically occur decades apart.”
“I see,” Jim replied, relieved the tenseness in Spock’s spine had relented with the switch in topic. “So, even though you have some family from Earth, you don’t celebrate any Terran holidays. I can understand that.”
“That is not entirely accurate.”
“The ancestors on my mother’s side were practitioners of Judaism. To honor the tradition passed down through generations, she would gather my father and me to commemorate Chanukah each year with the ritual lighting of the Hanukkiah.”
“Every year?” Jim echoed as he bent his knees and drew his legs close to his chest.
Spock finally looked at him again and raised a brow. “Indeed.”
Jim’s lips pulled into a wider smile. “I’m glad to hear that, Spock.” Feeling too warm now from their closeness to the stove, he pushed the edge of the cover away until it hung over the shoulder furthest from Spock.
“You know,” Jim began, leaning his head back and casting his gaze to the ceiling for several moments. “I’m not trying to be insensitive… I can only imagine how difficult it is having parents from different planets. But in some ways, it’s kind of neat.” His eyes fell and met Spock’s once more.
Spock’s lips parted without saying a word before he finally admitted, “I do not understand.”
“It only makes you that much more special. I’ve always liked that about you. You’re different in a good way—the best way.” Jim watched Spock adjust the shirt once more, identifying the fidgeting as a way of dealing with embarrassment. He stopped himself from chuckling at the thought of Spock getting flustered because of a few sincere compliments. “So, did you continue the tradition?”
“Captain?” The vague blush of verdant was once more hinting across Spock’s cheeks.
“After you left Vulcan. Do you light the Hanukkiah each year?”
“Ah.” Spock’s chin lifted in a half nod indicating his comprehension and he sat up a little straighter. “No. I did not see reason to.”
Jim’s lips pursed and he blinked. “Why?”
A deep hum came forth from Spock’s throat. “Singularly indulging in rituals may carry personal meaning for some, but I see no purpose in continuing them on my own.”
“I can see your point, but isn’t it a way to stay tied to your family through the distance?” Jim asked. “Doesn’t it have purpose if it helps you remember the memories made from all the years you spent with them?”
“You approach the subject from a very human perspective, Captain,” Spock said, but there was no annoyance present in his tone. “I do not need to perform an annual ritual to remember my familial ties or recall events from my childhood.”
“Of course not. I didn’t mean—”
“The reason why I do not perpetuate the custom is simple. I have observed that tradition is most meaningful when shared. That is the fundamental principle, is it not? To pass down an experience, a belief, or a piece of knowledge so that it will continue on. Since I have had no opportunity to share this custom with any other, I have not continued it.”
If Spock had intended to speak further, Jim’s hand landing on his shoulder stopped him from it. Before the small fire in their tiny one-room flop, displaced from the time they knew as home and without anyone else to turn to but themselves, they looked at each other. The grin Jim had been wearing faded into sincerity and his grasp tightened.
“I promise you, Spock,” he began, his voice laden with emotion. “Whether we make it home or not, I’ll be with you every year to light those candles.”
The only sound for a long while was the crackling of wood burning.
“I…appreciate this offer,” Spock finally admitted. “Though I am at a loss to understand why you freely extend it to me.”
“Why?” Jim echoed, allowing his face to soften once more into a soft smile. “Because tradition is important and that’s what friends are for. And I care about you.” There was a pause. “Very much.”
It was so easy to get lost in the depth of those brown eyes that a strange silence carried on for much too long. Jim almost recognized something that he might’ve identified as clarity within them…then, impossibly, desire? Affection? That was when he realized his imagination was getting the best of him and he cleared his throat. “Well. Speaking of sharing things, you let me eat half your soup, so why don’t I fix up something for us?”
He stood slowly, pressing his hands to the small of his back and kneading it to work the stiffness out. Bread and butter wasn’t exactly the most appealing holiday meal option, but it could have been worse…much worse.
Jim’s grin grew, but when he saw his friend simply peering down at his hands neatly folded in his lap, a wave of seriousness overcame him. “What is it?”
“I believe,” Spock started slowly as he rose to his feet as well, “I am both morally obligated and…personally inclined to inform you that my soup was not the only thing we have shared this evening.”
Jim shook his head. “I’m afraid I’m not following you.”
“The significance of touching hands in Vulcan culture, Captain.” Spock’s chin lifted and his eyes stared right into Jim’s. “It is how we kiss.”
By nature, Jim wasn’t a blusher. His skin always boasted a brilliant tan that his blond hair complemented perfectly. However, as Spock’s unreadable gaze burned right through him, Jim felt a rush hit his face that made his cheeks feel as though a fire were ignited straight across them.
His mouth opened, but he said nothing as he began rapidly shuffling through a list of responses which might be appropriate to address the situation with. If this were any other, Jim knew exactly what he’d do—apologize, maybe laugh it off. But this was Spock: his friend, his Vulcan first officer, and someone he harbored an immense secret affection for. What could he possibly say to undo whatever damage he’d just done?
After all of that, Jim managed only two words. “…Oh my.”
Spock remained silent. He was the first to move when he slid the blanket and shirt off of his shoulders, and then folded each neatly. After placing them on the bed, he returned to his place by the window.
Jim stood there, his gaze following Spock as a million red alerts went off in his mind at once. Abruptly, his lips parted and his arm swung out when he took a deliberate step forward.
From where he sat in his chair, Spock looked up. He simply raised one knowing brow and the corners of his lips ever so slightly twitched upward. There was a conspicuous glint in his eye, and then he turned back to his work.
Jim swallowed hard, finding a sliver of peace in the gesture, and whirled in the direction of the icebox to assemble the most mediocre holiday repast in possibly ever. But when he began slicing the bread with a dull knife, he paused to study the hands that had managed to kiss Spock.
He’d kissed Spock unknowingly. But he lived to tell the tale and their friendship was still intact. His heart fluttered.
Somehow, everything would turn out all right. Jim was sure of it.
San Francisco was cold this time of year—at least for a Vulcan.
A slender, aged hand lifted the onyx king and placed it on the chess board with a soft tap. Spock moved methodically to set up the match, taking the opportunity to feel the smooth texture of each piece and hear the tiny sound it produced when set upon the checkered surface.
He moved slowly because he’d learned that time, above everything else, was the most precious commodity of all. It was a fleeting gift, one that could be borrowed but never promised or guaranteed, and yet the small amount that temporarily belonged to him was his to share with whoever he wished. Spock had observed on many occasions that, depending on the company, it could either drag on for what seemed like an eternity or pass in the blink of an eye.
In that way, the last thirty years had flown by at the speed of warp factor ten.
Once each piece was carefully situated in the center of its appropriate box, Spock finally looked up to the large floor-to-ceiling transparent aluminum windows. He often gazed out of them to take in the scenery of the bay, but the dark sky caused an opaque reflection on the inside, and all Spock saw was himself.
He now had a perfect view to unnecessarily remind him of his age. The creases on his face had deepened over the decades and his ever neatly trimmed hair had begun a gradual shift from black to gray. His muscles had thinned out and his frame had become lankier. He wore different attire now—had traded Starfleet uniforms for formal robes with warmer underclothing. His career had been gracefully relocated from the great venue of space to a much smaller (but still important) office at the Vulcan Embassy.
Change, just like the passage of time, had been an inevitable, inescapable factor. But Spock had come to know that there were also some things which could resist both. Like chess and hot tea. Like a balmy place to belong and a soft place to land at the end of the day. …Like the warmth in his mind from thoughts that were not his own.
A habitual affection was what Jim had called it once.
Spock’s eyes wandered down to the small table he’d spent so many hours at in this condominium and revisited the constants in his life—the rituals and the predictable things he found himself grateful for…and some he’d come to very much appreciate once again. His attention was claimed by the Hanukkiah placed in the window. Tonight was the eighth night and all nine candles burned on proud display before the massive windows. Spock watched them flicker and dance, pondering the meaning represented by the lights.
He was so enveloped in his thoughts that when a large flannel shirt was draped over his back, he lifted his chin in muted surprised.
“Tea?” Jim asked from his position behind Spock’s chair, brushing his palms over the lean Vulcan shoulders and rubbing them gently.
“Unnecessary,” Spock replied. He made no movement to face Jim; instead, he closed his eyes and lifted his hands to rest tenderly atop the ones upon his shoulders. They remained like that for several moments before Jim leaned over and pressed a kiss to Spock’s uppermost psi point. His lips lingered for several seconds and when he stepped back, he deliberately brushed their fingers. Jim then took his seat across the table.
Deep lines in his face…gray hair…a bump in the middle of his shirt that had grown along with his waistline over the years.
Everything had changed.
Jim scanned over the chessboard before he picked up an onyx pawn and moved it. “So,” he said lightly. “What is it that’s on your mind?” His eyes flicked up to find Spock’s.
Spock exhaled through his nose and a brow lifted before he leaned forward to match Jim’s move with an ivory piece. “It involves a certain universal constant.”
“Ah,” Jim acknowledged with a nod. “Already predicting your defeat here? Well, that’s all right, Mister Spock. It just means you’re practical. Logical, even.”
Jim’s lips had thinned over time but when he smiled, he still brought the light of the sun with him. The room brightened even now, late into the evening. He moved a knight and sat back in his chair, his attention pointedly on Spock but there was something more in his gaze than a playful smugness—something that conveyed he’d understood what had been said and needed no further clarification.
Spock’s lashes fell and he merely shook his head. He reached up to the collar of Jim’s large shirt covering his shoulders and pulled it closer to him so that the pleasing scent it held was more prominent in his senses. An abrupt pulse of love over their bond caused his eyes to open again and they met Jim’s.
Yes, the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
It had started out as an attraction between them, as something that had been unknown and unguaranteed. A brushing of fingertips, a hand on a shoulder, significant looks, and long nights spent playing chess or talking. It was something Spock had been so convinced of being temporary in the beginning. He’d asked himself so many times in those first years…what could he possibly offer Jim, how could he ever make a human happy for long?
But just like the story behind the nine lights shining in their window now, the true miracle was that the flame which ignited and bound both of their hearts had never extinguished.
In fact, it only grew.
They played match after match together while the candles burned brightly.