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Written for ksadvent on LiveJournal.  Many thanks to my beta Notboldly50295!

James T. Kirk could barely stomach the silence.  He had once been in a virtual reality program that simulated being in the inky blackness of space without the need for a suit.  What stuck Jim the most about it was the lack of any sound.  At the time it had been strangely calming.  But here, it was all wrong.  He should be hearing something.  Humans were almost obnoxiously loud.  But there was nothing.

 

The Enterprise had failed them.  He had failed them. 

 

Beside him, Jim heard Bones swear softly under his breath, and Jim knew that he felt the same way too. 

 

Four days.  Four days it took for the Enterprise and her crew to get here.  Four days for the virus to go unchecked.  Four days for the remaining 150 colonists that still lived when the emergency call came in to succumb to the disease.  The only good thing that became of this tragedy was the fact that the rest of the expected colony members had not yet arrived.  The colony on planet Lumina Alpha II was scheduled for full occupation in six months.  The small colony group here now was the initial colonizers.  They came here in order to begin building their new lives.

 

So much for that.  The city they had erected not long ago sat pristine and quaint, daring to even sparkle cleanly in the light of the planet’s yellow sun.  The sky, perhaps a shade lighter blue than Earth’s, was clear, two of the three moons sailing gracefully through their orbits.  

 

It was entirely too peaceful of an afternoon in Jim’s perspective.

 

“Bones,” Jim said softly, his voice muffled by the environmental suit he wore, “could there be any survivors?”

 

He asked the question, but they both knew he didn’t need to.  He already knew the answer.

 

The doctor pulled out his tricorder, the small machine thrumming as he scanned the area. 

 

“In this sector of the city, I’ve got twelve life signs, all children.  No adult life signs.”

 

Having known Bones for six years now, Jim heard the strain of controlled human emotion in his friend’s voice.  He gently reached out and clasped the other man’s elbow through the material of the suit.

 

“It wasn’t your fault.”

 

Bones grunted, the sound a small sign of the crack in his façade.  “It wasn’t yours either, kid.” He patted the hand on his elbow, and then eased out of the grasp and moved to the first house, tricorder running, trying to locate the unaffected colonists.

 

“Those poor kids,” Jim whispered, knowing it was a complete understatement.  “Poor kids” indeed; their whole lives had been devastated.

 

Jim pulled his communicator from the utility belt he wore and flipped it open.  “Kirk to Enterprise, one to beam up.”

 

His ever efficient team had him transporting back up to the ship within moments.  Once his molecules were firmly settled and the decontamination field had been activated, he none too gently rid himself of the hazard suit and stepped off the pad. 

 

He nodded briefly to Scotty at the transporter controls before slapping the comm button on the console.

 

“Kirk to Uhura.”

 

“Aye, sir,” came the prim reply from his communications officer. 

 

“Please inform the medical crew and search teams that I want them in the transporter room and beamed down immediately.  Can you switch me over to Mr. Spock?”

 

“One moment, Captain.”

 

“Captain Kirk,” his First Officer greeted, cool and collected. 

 

“What’s the report on the vaccine, Spock?”

 

“Doctor McCoy’s vaccine has been tested and approved.  Production and distribution had begun as per orders.  Vaccinations have already been distributed among those in the search teams.”

 

“Thank you, Mr. Spock.”  As if on cue, the first wave of the search teams filed into the transporter room and onto the pad.  “Kirk out,” Jim said as he ended the connection and turned to face his crew.

 

“You know your orders,” he told them, and they all nodded in solemn agreement.  For what must have been the billionth time since the beginning of the five year mission, Jim felt a burst of pride for the men and women stationed on his ship.  They were the ones who had his back when it was too hard to do it himself; he’d learned that early in the mission.  Strange to think he used to consider himself a one-man team.

 

Jim turned and nodded at Scotty again before leaving the transporter room and heading for the bridge. 

 

The center seat was empty when the doors opened on the bridge.  With an almost unconscious glance around, Jim took stock of who was where, and spotted a nurse administering vaccines to the bridge crew.  He winced, only slightly consoled that when it came to be his turn it was Chapel and not Bones nailing him with the hypo. 

 

Jim sat down in the Captain’s chair and pulled up the small monitor from its slot in the chair arm to flick quickly through his messages. 

 

“Uhura, what’s the report from Starfleet?” he said aloud, not bothering to lift his head.

 

The comm officer swiveled her chair around.  “The survivors are to be transported to Earth.”

 

Jim looked up at her.  “What about the ambassadors?”

 

 “We’re to resume our assigned mission after the children are back on Earth.”

 

Jim turned back and nodded absently to himself. Feeling restless, he pushed the small screen away and stood up just as Nurse Chapel finally got around to him.

 

“Go easy on me, Nurse,” he teased. 

 

“You won’t feel a thing, Captain.”  The hypo hissed as she pressed it into his neck.  True to her word, the vaccine injected easily.  Seriously, Jim wondered, what was it with Bones and his hypo etiquette?

 

“Thanks, Nurse.”  Chapel nodded to him as she moved on to her next patient, Lieutenant Rishka, the current pilot on duty. 

 

“Lieutenant Rishka, you have the conn, I’m going to pay a visit to Ambassador Sarek.”  She might have replied over the hiss of the hypo, but Jim had disappeared into the turbo lift as soon as the words came out of his mouth, trusting his order would be followed.   

 

 One turbo lift ride and a few hallways later, Jim stood in front of one of the Enterprise’s Ambassadorial suites.  He pressed the buzzer and was granted access immediately.  When Jim stepped into the guest quarters, Ambassador Sarek was sitting at the desk wearing formal Vulcan robes and intently reading something on the computer monitor.   It didn’t even look like he had broken his concentration to let Jim in.  That’s Vulcans, for you; always efficient task managers, Jim thought, fondly thinking of one in particular. Sarek lifted his eyes from the screen when Jim reached the desk.

 

“Captain Kirk,” Sarek greeted in typical Vulcan manner.

 

Jim nodded.  “Ambassador.  I’m sure you have been apprised of the situation at the colony.”

 

“Yes.  It is an unfortunate occurrence.”

 

It sucks, Jim translated the Vulcan speak in his head.  It didn’t escape him the similarities between the current situation on Lumina Alpha II and what the Vulcans were going through following the destruction of their planet and a large majority of their species.  Even after three years the memory of it still stung.  Jim imagined the ache of the loss still preyed at Sarek’s mind as well, Vulcan or not.  They weren’t fooling Jim with their emotionless masks.  He knew a pair of Vulcans to prove it.  Granted, they were two versions of the same Vulcan, and were half human, but the generalization still applied…maybe probably?

 

Whatever, it still counts, Jim decided in his head.

 

 Jim belatedly realized he’d let the silence between them go on for a beat too long and hastened to fill the gap.  It wouldn’t do anybody any good to cry over spilt milk at this point.

 

“Starfleet is sending us to Earth to drop off the children.  Afterwards, we will continue to Gre’T’lin so you and Ambassador Selek can sign that trade agreement.”

 

Sarek nodded.  “That is acceptable.”  He turned away, obviously dismissing the Captain.  As Jim left the room, he contemplated how strange it was that he was only mildly intimidated by Spock’s father.  As far as he was concerned, a Vulcan who married a human couldn’t be too bad.  Not to be mistaken, though, the Vulcan could still cause him to feel like a little boy with one hand in the cookie jar, but throughout his years as captain, Ambassador Sarek had become something of an ally.  Jim couldn’t be more surprised, considering Sarek’s first impression of Jim was of a mutinous asshole insulting his only son about Sarek’s recently deceased wife.  On a scale of first impressions, with “horribly bad” a 0 and “they’ve met the most awesome person ever” at a 10, Sarek’s impression of Jim had to have been a negative 5.  It was a long, crippled trip home after destroying Nero, and a big ship can be surprisingly small when you’re trying to avoid someone.  Jim couldn’t afford to burn bridges once he was given the captaincy, so he had approached Sarek and gave a peace offering in the form of condolences for the loss of his wife.

 

Sarek had nodded solemnly and said, “Thank you.”  It struck a chord in Jim when Sarek didn’t deny the implication to Vulcan emotionality his statement had made.  It just goes to show how much the death of Amanda (Jim made an effort to find out her name) had affected Sarek as much as it had Spock.  Sarek had then excused himself and that was that.

 

From then on, Ambassador Sarek had openly supported Jim’s captaincy, and his support had indirectly swayed others in Jim’s favor as well.  Jim couldn’t be more grateful.  In turn, it was hardly any trouble to have Spock’s father on the Enterprise.  The same went for Ambassador Selek, or Spock Prime, as Jim liked to secretly think of him.  He didn’t know what his Jim did in the other universe to earn such loyal devotion that transcended universes, but he was happy to take whatever he could get.  It was nice to feel trusted no matter what. 

 

Then again, he suspected he had some mighty big shoes to fill. 

 

No pressure or anything.

 

******

 

“How are they, Bones?”

 

McCoy barely glanced at Jim while he replied, too intently focused on the readout charts.  “Their physical health isn’t much of a problem, though their stress hormones are through the roof.  It’s their mental health that I’m worried about.  They’ll need group and individual therapy sessions.”  He shook his head.  “The virus killed anyone over 12.  Jim, they’re all just babies.”

 

Jim frowned, knowing he was thinking of his daughter.  Any mission that involved children distressed his friend greatly.  They were in McCoy’s office, but he could hear soft crying from some of the children out in sickbay.  The sound was tough to hear.

 

“Keep me updated.  And Bones?  Hang in there.”  He gave McCoy’s shoulder a firm squeeze before ending the contact and leaving his office.  He passed several biobeds occupied by the survivors, all of them being attended by the medical staff.  He didn’t notice the boy until he almost ran him over.

 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see…”  He let the sentence trail off.  The boy, no older than eleven, with scruffy brown hair, baggy clothes and a twiggy body, was giving Jim such a punishing glare that he could almost feel the burn on his skin.  Jim had only seen that kind of expression a few times before, and almost never in someone this young. 

 

“Can I—do you—are you ok?” Jim finally settled on, disconcerted by the small boy.  The boy didn’t respond, merely continuing to glare daggers before abruptly walking away.  With a wrinkled brow, Jim left the sickbay, all the while wondering about the strange boy.

 

******

 

With his team settled comfortably in their usual seats around the conference table, Jim allowed himself to sit as well.  Judging by their faces, his officers felt the weight of failure as heavily as he did.  The past three days had not been easy, the mission having too many similarities to their own tumulus beginnings. 

 

On his right, Spock’s warm Vulcan heat permeated the air between their bodies, and Jim allowed himself to lean in just a little bit further before focusing on the matter at hand.

 

“Mr. Sulu, what do you have to report?”

 

“Of the two hundred colonists,” Sulu said from the left side of the table, “only 37 survived.  All of them children.”  He paused a moment, the tightening of his fist on the tabletop the only outward indication of his emotions.  “The bodies of the colonists were gathered and disintegrated.”  A necessary means of sanitation; the virus had to be prevented from spreading.  “All colonists are accounted for.”

 

“Thank you, Lieutenant.  Mr. Spock?”  Jim turned to face his First Officer, for the first time really noting how closed he had gotten to him.  He shifted a bit, widening the gap for the sake of the Vulcan’s comfort.  Spock hadn’t seemed to notice.

 

“The virus, now classified at a mutant of the Fryuny class, has been successfully vaccinated against, with no contamination of the ship.  It is incapable of surviving in preadolescent children, and thus was not found in the survivor’s blood.  It is an airborne virus, thus Decontamination Procedure A should be enough to rid the planet of the infection.  Colonization will be able to proceed as scheduled.”

 

“Vhy vazn’t the wirus detected before?” Chekov asked. 

 

“The Fryuny class viruses affect plants normally, which had been detected on the initial scans in the water supply concentrated in the western part of the main continent.  Two years ago decontamination successfully eliminated the virus and the infected plants burned.  What had not been accounted for was the ability for the mutated viruses to survive the burning and become airborne.  Further scans had not detected this anomaly, as the virus had remained dormant until later, and the colonization preceded as planned.  Incubation in the hosts lasts nearly a year, and once activated, the virus is as swift as it is deadly.”

 

Sugarcoating the situation would not make it any better; Spock’s clinical narrative of the situation was almost appreciated.  Everyone knew that even the Enterprise, the flag ship of the fleet, had not been fast enough to save the majority of the colony.

 

The rest of the meeting went by efficiently, with only a few details remaining before they left orbit and headed to Earth.  Jim dismissed his fellow officers and they filed out, intent on their respective duties, leaving Spock as his only company.

 

The Vulcan was currently focused on his PADD. 

 

“Spock?”

 

With little hesitation, Spock turned his attention to his Captain.  “Yes, Captain?”

 

“Are you alright?”

 

Spock’s expression did not change, and he continued to look Jim in the eye.  “Of course, Captain.  Is there a reason I should not be?”

 

Jim just blinked and slowly, silently, shook his head.  Thinking the conversation over, Spock began gathering his PADD and memory chips.  Jim got up from his seat and moved closer to where Spock sat, pausing a moment before giving the blue-clad shoulder a friendly, comforting pat.  If his fingers brushed over Spock’s bare neck as he drew his hand away, nobody had to know it wasn’t completely by accident.

 

The Vulcan could be dismissive all he wanted, but Jim knew he wasn’t a stone cold machine.  Spock’s eyes were literally the mirror to his soul, and it would only be a physical separation from his body that could let Spock hide what he felt.  Jim saw in those warm, chocolate depths the spark of life, of emotion.  It wasn’t always so bright, but the past few days Jim had caught its glint.  37 children freshly without parents could only help but remind him of losing his own mother.  Jim understood, and he wished Spock could see that as well.  Spock was…important to him, and he’d do anything to ease the pain a little.

 

Damn, this mission was so hard on everybody.    

 

The door to the meeting room swished shut behind Jim, leaving what he hoped was a Vulcan with comforting and warm thoughts still buzzing through his system from the brief touch they had shared.

 

******

 

“They’re just so…sad,” Uhura spoke from across the table in the officer’s mess.  Beside her, Scotty and Chekov nodded their head in silent agreement.  Sitting at the table next to them, Ambassadors Sarek and Selek calmly took bites of their food, supplementing their meal with sips of water.  Spock sat with them.  The seat to the right of Jim remained empty.

 

 McCoy’s arm brushed up against Jim’s when he brought his hand up to rub his tired eyes.  All the children’s medical checkups had come up clean, but he seemed to have taken it upon himself to constantly monitor their health.  Jim gently shoved the other man with his shoulder.

 

“Hey, do I have to invoke Captain’s authority to make sure you get some sleep?”

 

McCoy grunted and looked at him from the corner of his eye, face cupped in one hand. Otherwise, he ignored the comment and turned his attention across the table to Uhura. 

 

“They lost their parents.  Of course they’re sad.”

 

Jim saw Uhura’s eyes grow hard with indignation, and then soften with understanding.  Everyone knew McCoy didn’t mean to imply she was ignorant of the situation, it was just one of his ways of letting off some steam.

 

The children weren’t the only ones who weren’t themselves; the whole crew was off.  They put their whole hearts into their missions, and they cared about the outcomes.  This particular outcome had the sickly-sweet scent of failure to it.  Jim pushed his food around his plate, deep in thought.  In a few days it would be the classic terrain holiday of Christmas, too.  The holiday didn’t really mean too much to him, merely a time when his mother might decide to come home to watch him open his generic presents and eat a meal together before leaving again.  But, he knew to some, it was a bright holiday full of love and hot chocolate and family gatherings.  Other families he knew would prepare for the holiday a month, sometimes two, in advance.  This particular year seemed a bit of a letdown.

 

It was as Jim was considering this train of thought that Sulu broke the silence.

 

“I wish there was something we could do.”

 

“I know wha’ I’ll do,” Scotty said, and Jim couldn’t help but break into a small grin.  Everyone who was anyone knew about Scotty’s distiller.  “Tis a shame none’er the wee bairns are of drinking age.”

 

“Scotty, you do know that alcohol is a depressant, right?”

 

“Oy, Captain.  A good bottle ‘o Scotch is nothin’ of the sort.”

 

From where he sat, Jim could see Spock raise an eyebrow.  Bless that Vulcan hearing.  Jim fancied he could read his First’s thoughts: Illogical.

 

“Scotty may be on to something though,” Sulu insisted.  “We need some way to cheer them up.  Something that could cheer the crew up too.  A party?”

 

Bones snorted.  “Do you really think a party’s gonna cheer them up?”  Sulu frowned at the doctor.  Jim had to agree with his statement, though it did get him thinking. 

 

“It can’t just be any party…” he thought aloud, too quiet for anyone to hear clearly. 

 

“What, Captain?” Uhura asked, having heard his muttered musings.

 

Jim looked up, vaguely embarrassed he’d been caught thinking out loud, but then he thought, Aww, hell, as long as we’re all talking about it…

 

“Did you know it’s almost Christmas?”

 

McCoy snorted.  “Jim, have you been paying any attention to the conversation?”

 

Jim was about to explain but Chekov beat him to the punch.

 

“Oh! I get it!  Ve can haf a Christmas celebration.”

 

“That’s great…unless you’re Jewish or something,” McCoy said.

 

Uhura rolled her eyes.  “It doesn’t have to be a religious celebration.”

 

 “Right,” Jim said.  “We can make Christmas be purely superflurous and completely over the top for no reason other than to make things sparkly and warm and fluffy...but it has to show the children that there is still life after what happened.  We need to give them a little Christmas magic.”

 

From across the way, Spock looked confused; Jim could only imagine what he was trying to compute in his head about Christmas magic and the physics of the universe.

 

Oh Spock, Jim thought, you have much to learn.

 

“Zey can decorate ze ship.  The children can help,” Chekov enthused.  Scotty nearly choked on his drink.

 

“You won’t be decorating me engine rooms!”

 

Jim waved him back into his seat.  “We can just do the living deck, and the rec rooms and mess halls.”  He paused.  “Maybe I should be Santa?  You can all be my elves, or I guess reindeer, if you so please.”  Jim watched as Spock’s left eyebrow hit the ceiling.  Jim tried to mock the Vulcan’s expression, but his one eyebrow followed the other, and he decided he probably only looked surprised.  He decided the expression looked better on Vulcans anyway, so instead he grinned.  “If we all have to look stupid, remember it will be for a good cause.  I can’t stand the sad faces anymore; we really need to do something to cheer those kids and Bones up.”

 

“Hey!  Are you saying I’m depressed?”

 

Jim leaned in closer to his friend.  “Do you know alcohol is a depressant?  Do they not teach you in medical school anymore?”  He snatched himself back as McCoy took a halfhearted swipe at him, so he decided Bones was no fun and switched to a better target.

 

 “Spock!  You can be an elf!”

 

Both eyebrows disappeared under the Vulcan’s straight-cut bangs.  He looked a little pale and flustered. Jim’s grin got wider.

 

Swiveling in his seat and clearing his throat, Ambassador Selek politely included himself in the conversation.

 

“I am not opposed to participating in the festivities.”   

 

Everyone looked a little stupefied by the Vulcan’s statement.  Most of Jim’s officers did not know Selek’s identity, but it made the situation all the sweeter for Jim.  To everyone else it looked like an old Vulcan, and ambassador no less, was asking to crash a party.  And if Spock’s bug eyes (ok, they weren’t that big, but wide enough for a Vulcan) were anything to go by, he was about as shocked as well.  Jim and Scotty shared a grin.  At this point Sarek also turned to face the rest of the group, with his back to Spock, and surprised the hell out of Jim. 

 

“I shall also offer to participate.” 

 

Damn, Jim thought, dumbstruck, Did that Vulcan just offer to trim a tree for human children?

 

It appeared Spock was thinking somewhere along similar lines, because he finally spoke. 

 

“Father?”  Jim entertained the thought that he probably really meant to say a stupefied “Huh?” 

 

Sarek turned back to look at his son over the tabletop.  “It is only logical.  Those children have suffered a great tragedy.  The Enterprise crew seems to think the celebrating of Christmas will help them.”

 

“All the same,” Spock protested, “there is no need for you to participate.  There are plenty of crew members who could cover all that is necessary.”

 

“Nevertheless, I wish to contribute.”  Sarek turned to face Jim.  “Captain, please inform me when you have arranged the details.”  Sarek then gathered his tray and stood up, stopping at the tray disposal before exiting the room like nothing unusual had happened, leaving only Selek and Spock left at the “Vulcan” table.

 

Spock watched his father leave before shooting an accusing glance at his counterpart.  Selek caught Jim’s eye with the corner of his own and twitched the corner of his mouth.  To Jim, it looked like Spock thought Selek had somehow contaminated his father, and Jim couldn’t help but chuckle before covering his mouth and disguising it as a cough. 

 

“Captain,” his First voiced from across the officer’s mess.  “It appears you may be coming down with something.  Perhaps Doctor McCoy should examine you in sickbay.”

 

Ooh, that’s one angry Vulcan! Jim thought with glee, and he ended up bursting into more un-captainly giggles.  Across from him, Uhura’s lips curled up and she let of a dainty snort before schooling her expression.       

 

Still chuckling, Jim got up and crossed the room to sit by Spock.  He bumped their shoulders (which was sort of like bumping into an unyielding, sun-warmed rock), saying, “Come on, Spock!  There are three Vulcans on the ship, two more than usual, and they have agreed to throw a party for the children.  Why don’t you want to help?”  Jim caught Selek’s eye again, sharing the mirth.  The rest of the bridge crew gathered at the Vulcan’s table, making noises of encouragement.

 

“I find it a waste of Starfleet resources…” he started, but a multitude of voices cut him off.

 

“Ach, it’s for the children, lad!”

 

“I was mostly kidding about that elf costume, Spock…”

 

“Nah, Jim, I think the hobgoblin would be great as an elf.”

 

“Ze kids vould love haffing a party!”

 

“Please, Spock?”

 

“Alright, people, stop haggling the man,” Jim said, gesturing for them all to sit back down.  He turned to address Spock.  “Mr. Spock, I appreciate your opinion, but it is with my best judgment as Captain that a Christmas party would be for the best interests of the children, and for the crew.  We haven’t had an onboard celebration in a long time, and it’ll be fun!  Boosts crew morale of something.”  Here he paused, smiling.  “I really was joking about making you dress up as an elf.  Too bad, too.  My motto is if you have it,” he gently flicked the tip of Spock closest ear, “flaunt it.”

 

Jim smiled at the slow green blush that settled at the tip of the ear he’d just touched. 

 

“It appears I am outnumbered in this issue.”

 

Jim shook his head.  “Nah, you’re just confused about which side you’re on.”  He turned to the rest of the group.  “I expect a report on Operation Christmas Party in the morning.”

 

******

 

Jim had never been a big Christmas person, but when he decides to do something its either all or nothing.  The hundreds of yards of Christmas lights and garland he ordered to be replicated proved it.  When he had issued the order on the bridge that morning Spock had looked nothing short of alarmed, which meant he merely looked completely expressionless and a little pale.  Jim caught him glancing at Jim with sidelong glances that could mean only mean he thought Jim had lost his marbles.

 

The rest of the crew was just as taken with the idea of a Christmas celebration as the bridge officers, and by the next morning after it was decided to have the party everyone was ready to get started.  As it was the 23rd of December, things got underway fast in order to prepare for the 25th.  The children had since been brought to stay in the empty guest cabins on the living deck, and that was mostly where they were confined to.  Jim had Uhura set the deck to play Christmas music in the rec rooms and mess halls.  The songs were carefully screened, of course, to make sure there weren’t too many overt religious connotations to keep it neutral for the still fragile children and multiple species aboard. 

 

The young colonists quickly sensed the crew’s excitement, and everyone noticed how they began to talk more, their large eyes carefully watching the adults replicate all sorts of holiday decorations while singing along to their favorite songs.  By the afternoon, those who weren’t on shift or immediately necessary for a flight through Federation Space were corralling the children into helping decorate.  Jim watched from the sidelines in the main mess when he had time, and he was pleased to see the kids eagerly sticking up garland and mistletoe or cutting out paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling.  The whole place was in complete shambles, but he didn’t care.  He was especially glad to see some smiles, hesitant at first and then getting wider.  

 

“They’ve been doing better than expected,” McCoy said from his side.

 

“When did you learn to sneak like a Vulcan?”

 

McCoy rolled his eyes.  “Kid, you just didn’t hear me over the sound of that canary in your mouth, you scrawny tomcat.”  His tone sobered up.  “This really was a good idea, Jim.”

 

Jim nodded, and then he frowned when he spotted that same boy from sickbay quietly brooding at a corner table.  He nodded his head in the boy’s direction.

 

“What about that one?  He glared daggers at me the other day.”

 

McCoy glanced at the boy indicated.  “That’s the oldest of the group, Trevor.  His parents and both his older siblings died.  The only family that would take him in was a cousin.  As you can tell, he’s not doing as well as the others.  He’s very angry, Jim.”

 

“I know the feeling.”  Jim silently examined the boy, remembering what it was like to be that small and that angry at the world.  It had taken him a long time to stop seeing everyone else as the enemy and begin calling them friends.

 

“Has anyone tried talking to him?”

 

“Of course we have.  He’s got his lips sealed tighter than your records.”

 

Jim gave McCoy a sidelong glance in amusement at the metaphor.

 

“Well, keep an eye on him, okay?”

 

******

 

“Spock!”  Jim slapped a hand down on the Vulcan’s shoulder.  “Have you made your ornament yet?” he asked with a shit-eating grin.  The loitering crewmembers grinned at the reminder.  Jim had recommended that each crew member decorate or hang on the huge tree in the main mess some sort of ornament that represented themselves.  Jim had cited crew unity as encouragement, and most everyone was really enjoying the idea.  Well, except for one.   

 

Spock, in his calm and collected manner, replied, “No, I have not.”  He dipped his shoulder so Jim’s hand slid off.

 

“Aww, you’re not still upset we forced you to play along, are you?  Your dad volunteered to do it!  Doesn’t that mean anything?”

 

“I am beginning to believe that my father is not in his right mind.”

 

Knowing it would annoy the Vulcan, Jim said.  “That was a good joke, Spock!  I love your sense of humor.  Really, claiming your father is crazy just because he decided to celebrate Christmas?  I’m saving that one for later,” he called out from over his shoulder with a smile as he left a sighing, resigned First Officer in his wake.

 

Jim walked down the hall, admiring the new decorations adding splashes of color to the almost blindingly white walls of the corridor.  Stopping in front of one of the diplomatic guest quarters, he chimed the door buzzer to let its occupant know he was there and it promptly slid open. 

 

“Whew,” he said, tugging on the collar of his shirt to let some air through.  “Is it just me, or are your quarters hotter than any of the other Vulcan’s rooms?”

 

Selek, with his expressive eyes twinkling in amusement, was sitting in front of a 3-D chess set, a glass of water already sitting on the unoccupied side.

 

“I am an old man, Jim,” he said easily in terms of explanation.  Jim smiled.

 

“And I thought Delta Vega was cold.”  He shook his head.

 

“Computer, temperature down twenty degrees,” Selek said with his special almost-smile.

 

“You didn’t have to do that.  I can take the heat,” Jim said as he discarded his gold shirt, leaving the black undershirt on. 

 

The old Vulcan shrugged, an odd gesture in one of his species.  “It would be bad manners if I did not see to the comfort of my guest.”

 

“Eh, you just like me, you big softy.”

 

Selek lifted an eyebrow, innocently asking, Who, me?

 

Jim grinned.  Who else?

 

Jim began the game by moving his piece, Spock following with a move the other Spock would normally not make. 

 

“I taught you well,” Jim teased as he took his turn again, referring mostly to his other self in this Spock’s universe.

 

“I believe that some would consider it corrupting,” Selek said fondly.

 

After several minutes of playing, the only sound the clicking of the pieces as they were moved, Jim asked, “Should I feel bad for, er, gently forcing Spock to participate in the Christmas party?  I guess Vulcans don’t celebrate it much.  You and the other Vulcans are doing it, so I know there’s no cultural or…” he waved his hand aimlessly in the air, “logical reasons to decline, but it’s probably not generally appreciated.”

 

Selek took his turn before answering, his mind almost visibly whirling as he contemplated the question. 

 

“No, I do not think so.  When I was young I did not actively participate in the human festivities.  I did not fully understand the human’s, and, indeed, some of the other species’ need for social interaction.  ‘Vulcans do not need to waste our time on activities designed to share emotions with others,’” he quoted in a pure Vulcan tone of voice.  Jim found it a little disturbing, hearing none of the warmth that the older Vulcan/human hybrid usually portrayed, albeit subtly.  Even his Spock wasn’t so cold most of the time.  “After having lived for so long without my friends, I realize now my mistake.  Life is too short to spend your time alone and to not show those that care about you the sentiments are returned.”

 

They played for several more minutes, one half of Jim’s brain focusing on the game and the other half on something entirely different.  The conversation had touched something he had been carrying around for quite some time.  When he couldn’t concentrate enough to plan his next move, he suddenly blurted, “I think I’m in love with him.”

 

Selek barely blinked, merely sat back in his chair with an amused expression on his aged face.  Jim made a sound of frustration and embarrassment as he ran his fingers through his hair.

 

“I can’t believe I just told you that.  It’s just, when he and Uhura broke up, we started hanging out more and…he’s just… ”  Jim broke off with another embarrassed grunt and dropped his face into his palm.   He looked up at the object of his affection’s counterpart. “Are you creeped out?  Shocked?  Indifferent?”

 

The old Vulcan lifted an eyebrow.  “I believe I am…happy, to see this universe is not so different from mine.”

 

Jim dropped his hand into his lap and sat up straighter.  “What do you mean?”

 

“Jim, it may be inappropriate for me as a Vulcan to admit this, but I have been afraid that this universe would be irrevocably different from the one it was intended to be.  But it is not.  The Enterprise crew is still where they were meant to be, albeit several years early.  Nonetheless, they are here.  You are here, and so is Spock.”

 

There was silence between then as Jim interpreted what he had been told.  “Are you trying to say your Jim was in love with you too?” he asked quietly.  When the statement was not immediately denied, he flashed a nervous grin.  “What did you do?”

 

“Now, Jim,” Selek said, chastising. “You know I will not reveal anything that may or may not occur in your lifetime.  Some things are the same but, perhaps, there are things that need to be different.  My counterpart deserves to make his own choices.”

 

They were silent for a few moments, Jim absently staring at the chess board without really seeing it.  Finally, he asked quietly, “Did you love him?”

 

“Yes.”  Selek did not explain any further, and Jim let him keep his secrets.  Just hearing that this other Spock, a man who was different and yet not so much as to be unrecognizable, was able to love his Jim Kirk made hope curl warmly in his chest.

 

The door buzzer interrupted their reverie, and Selek instantly reacted and called out, “Come.”

 

The younger Spock strode briskly into the room, stopping a distance from the table where the other two sat, giving them an investigative glance.

 

“Captain, I hope I am not interrupting.”

 

Jim waved him in.  “No, Spock, it’s fine.”

 

 Spock closed the distance by a few steps.  “I will not be long; this form merely needs your signature.”  He handed Jim a PADD.  Jim took it and slapped down a signature in a wide scrawl that filled most of the signature box.

 

“Thank you, Captain,” Spock said as Jim handed the PADD back.  He flicked his eyes in Selek’s direction before nodding and exiting the room.  Jim smiled fondly after him, and then turned back to what some might say was the original Spock.

 

“You do that on purpose.”

 

“I have no knowledge of that which you speak of,” Selek replied innocently.

 

Jim rolled his eyes.  “You smile that little amused smile like everything he does is ridiculously funny.”  He chuckled.  “I’m pretty sure he was just checking up on me, making sure you aren’t going to corrupt me like you did his father.”

 

“James T. Kirk, I claim no such thing.”

 

Jim picked up one of his pieces and set it down on a new square.  “Yeah, yeah, save it for the judge.”

 

******

 

“Spock?  You ready?” Jim called out after stepping back and examining his piece of handiwork he’d placed in Spock’s quarters.  Pleased, he turned around and pushed up the sleeves of his obnoxious green sweater with a Christmas tree on the front.  After several days of preparation and anticipation, the Enterprise was finally ready to have their first ever Christmas party. The actual party had been going on since midday while he and Spock had been on duty, but now they were off shift.    

 

Spock stepped out from the bathroom, and Jim broke into a wide grin.

 

“Looking good!”  And he did, dressed in a traditional Vulcan robe.  Jim was convinced Spock could pull off wearing black better than any other person he’d ever met.  The robe had silver edges and hung down over slim black pants tucked into tall polished boots.

 

“Captain, am I to assume from your statement that I am sufficiently dressed?”

 

“Yup!  Unless you want a sweater?”  Jim swept his hand down his front, modeling his green monstrosity.

 

The bridge crew had been up late last night and was a little loopy from exhaustion when Jim came up with the idea, claiming it as a Captain’s mandate.  Scotty wrestled with a replicator for a while and by the time they all dragged themselves to bed they had brand new, ugly sweaters.  McCoy’s had Rudolph on his, complete with a real, shiny red nose.

 

Jim was going to keep the pictures forever and ever.

 

Starfleet might hate him later.  Contrary to popular belief, replicators did not just create things from thin air; they did, in fact, cost money to produce the food, clothing, and other items within its limits.  This fact was probably why Jim was in hot water with Headquarters for having nearly doubled the uniform cost of a starship captain in his first three years, compared to the normal tally over the complete five year mission.

 

Oops.

 

He was convinced Spock tried to make up for the discrepancy by coming out of mission with his uniform shirt intact.  Jim lamented the fact he rarely got to see the Vulcan without it.

 

 …But that was beside the point.

 

The Vulcan hesitated, and if he were human he’d probably be scuffing his foot on the floor. “Would that be more indicative to the holiday?”

 

Jim walked up close and straightened the collar of Spock’s robe.  “Nah, you’re perfect.”  His eyes connected with Spock’s and all he saw were the warm, liquid depths for a split second before he tugged his gaze away.  “Just perfect,” he said again, smothing one of the sleeves before dropping his hand and stepping away before his impulsive nature made him do something stupid.

 

Spock then noticed the new addition to his quarters.  Scrutinizing the object with a critical eye, he asked, “Why did you place a fire hazard into my room?”

 

Jim huffed.  “It’s a Christmas tree, Spock.  And I promise it won’t catch on fire.”

 

Spock eyed the tree dubiously, but he ultimately yielded to its presence.

 

 “Captain, I wish to show you my assignment for your approval before I submit it.”

 

Jim shook his head and made a sound of disapproval.  “Spock, ship’s business can w…oh.”

 

Jim took a step forward and peered at the object Spock held up in his hand.

 

“Spock, that’s…wow.”

 

“Does it meet your requirements?”

 

Jim carefully took the ornament from Spock, holding it by the string that would eventually hold it up on a Christmas tree branch.  With one finger he pushed the ornament so it spun, allowing a 360 degree view of it.  The ornament was spherical, with one side a carefully painted replica of Earth, all blues and greens, and on the other side an equally accurate depiction of the red planet Vulcan.  Jim felt something catch in his chest, and he smiled, all the while trying to force the sudden pressure behind his eyes away.  This simple, elegant expression of what Spock is, of who he is, was doing a number on his heartstrings.  It was a mess of contradictions: dry and wet, green and red, logic and emotions.  Jim knew it was hard for Spock sometimes, but seeing the contrast like this laid it all bare.

 

 “Spock,” he whispered, “that’s great.”  He chuckled weakly.  “And all I made was a popsicle-stick representation of myself.”  He looked up into Spock’s eyes.  “This is amazing, Spock.” 

 

Spock seemed to study Jim.  Jim hoped he couldn’t tell how much it had affected him, and glanced away.

 

“It is a replica of one my mother made for me.  My father had not allowed the celebration of Christmas to its full extent, so it was never displayed in the typical fashion of such an object.  It was mostly kept in storage, and was lost with Vulcan.”

 

Jim’s eyes flicked up to Spock’s face before dropping back down to his hands and the object in them.

 

“What did your father allow your mother do to for Christmas?”

 

 “She made us dinner, and would always give me new clothing and study materials.”

 

Jim grinned.  “What, no toys?”

 

Spock merely lifted his brow in an admonishing gesture.  “Vulcan children do not play with toys,” he said, but Jim could tell he was only being affectionately disapproving.

 

“Did you care? About Christmas, I mean.”

 

Spock cocked his head, and Jim realized what he just asked about Vulcans and “caring”.  Opening his mouth to retract the statement, he was stopped when Spock actually responded.

 

“I found it to be a frivolous holiday, but I tolerated it.  I knew it made my mother happy.”

 

Jim understood.  “It was family, Spock.  Sure, as children we all thought Christmas was about cutting down a tree, decorating it with lights and shiny things and waiting for an old, fat man to place presents under it, but later the best part is celebrating something with your family.  There’s nothing wrong with celebrating with the family you have here now, Spock. ”

 

Spock noded.  “There are merits to your statements. Nevertheless, I find that I am rather puzzled at my father’s acknowledgment of the holiday.  As a Vulcan, he had never found much importance to Christmas.  Yet, my mother insisted, and he allowed it.  With her…gone, there is no reason for him to follow the human holiday.”

 

Jim chuckled.  “Somebody had to be Scrooge, right?”  Spock merely gave him a blank look.  “Never mind,” he said with a dismissive gesture of his hand and grew serious again.  “Spock, I think your father is trying to keep her memory alive.  You’re his son, and, like I said, the better part of Christmas is being with family.  He lost a lot, too.  You can say all you want about Vulcans and emotionality, but nothing in the world will convince me that you guys aren’t capable of loving your family.”

 

Spock studied the man before him, a contemplative expression on his face.  “I see.  I suppose then, going with tradition, that it is fortunate my father is on board right now, as he is the only family I have left.”

 

The statement made Jim recall the time Spock had uttered a similar line, claiming Earth as his only home left.  Jim wholeheartedly thought that was no longer true. 

 

“Spock.”  Jim swallowed.  “Earlier when I said you have family here, I didn’t specifically mean your father.  He’s not the only family you have left.” 

 

Spock lifted an eyebrow, silently asking for clarification.

 

“You have us, Spock.  Uhura, Bones, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov.”  He swallowed.  “Me.  You have a home here on the Enterprise.  We’re your very large, somewhat dysfunctional family, complete with a couple crazies.  And you know who I’m talking about,” Jim said grinning, all the while searching Spock’s eyes, looking for any reaction, any peak of the emotion the Vulcan hides behind his thick shields.

 

His efforts paid off, and he was rewarded with a Spock smile.  Granted, Jim had to squint a bit to see it and if it were on any other person’s face it would have gone unnoticed, but on a Vulcan the slight upturning of the mouth, the softening around his eyes and the accompanying flash of warmth in the dark depth was blatant.  Jim couldn’t stop the smile on his own face caused by the flood of affection that warmed his chest. 

 

“Indeed, Captain,” Spock said.  “I find that your logic is sound.”

 

“Hey, there is a one in three chance of that occurring,” Jim joked, handing the ornament back to Spock.  In the process the tips of their fingers caressed for a split second, and when Jim returned his hand back to his side, the spots that connected with Spock’s hot fingers tingled.  Spock blinked and put his hand behind his back in in his customary stance, but Jim didn’t miss the way he managed to hold onto the ornament and rub the tips of his own fingers with his thumb.

 

“Captain?” Spock prompted, and Jim realized he had been staring.

 

Jim sucked in the hot air of Spock’s quarters and said quickly, “You ready?”

 

Spock paused contemplatively before nodded and followed Jim out of his quarters, ornament held delicately in his hands.

 

When they reached the mess hall where the Christmas dinner was being held, Spock left Jim’s side to go hang up his ornament (“Make sure it’s in a good spot,” Jim had ordered) with the understanding that he would meet Jim later at their table.

 

The room was dressed to to nines; there was color everywhere, interlaced with strings of light and glistening jewels.  Jim had to admit, his lady had never looked so fancy.

 

“Wow, you really did it this time,” McCoy said as Jim sat down next to him.  Bones peered around the extravagant table piece to take in the room around him.  “It’s all…sparkly.”

 

“Aww, you’re just used to the dark of your dungeon.  Ow!  Why’d you smack me?”

 

“You deserved it.  And you know all that dessert on your plate’s gonna make you fat.”

 

“It’s Christmas dessert; you’re supposed to overeat it.”

 

Before Bones could offer a retort back, the arrival of the two oldest Vulcans on the ship caused him to hold his tongue.  Both were appropriately dressed in Vulcan robes, Sarek’s brown with gold trimmings, and Selek’s black with a dark blue silk sewn in the fabric, reminding Jim of a raven’s feather.  They both had an assortment of traditional Christmas foods on their plate, minus the non-vegetarian items, of course.

 

Looking around, Jim was pleased to see the children sitting and actively chatting with the crew and amongst themselves.  The crew seemed to be enjoying themselves, too.  This party was as much for them as it was to cheer the children up.  They all deserved it.

 

Jim scooted down the bench to make room for Spock, who approached the table while carefully avoiding brushing up against the loitering crew.  With a nod to the rest of the table he took his seat and carefully arranged his tray to his liking before digging into his food as only a Vulcan would: slowly and precisely.  Jim smiled and ate another overfilling forkful of cheesecake.

 

The rest of the Alpha shift crew eventually filtered into the party, Jim’s head officers gathering at his table.  This was his family, Jim thought to himself, and he basked in the fluttering warmth that only came with the comfort of contentment and happiness.

 

With the group being rather open and boisterous with each other, it didn’t take long for a lively discussion of anything and everything to pick up.  The humans tended to hog the conversation, either because the Vulcans were more deigned to listen or because the humans were just that loud.  Either way, the three Vulcans were used to human behavior, and they were skilled at butting their way into the exchanges when they so desired.

 

Somehow, the team transitioned from Federation regulations, to best restaurants of which planets, to the merits of socks, to childhood pastimes. 

 

“My parents made me play the piano.  I’m totally tone deaf, but at least it gave me flexibility in my hands.  Makes piloting easier.”

 

“Sulu, I was in the same boat you were.  My mom gave me a flute.  A flute!” Jim repeated in an indignant tone.  “She thought the afterschool lessons would give me less time to get into trouble.  Good thing I’m proficient in time management.”

 

There were some chuckles and a few eye rolls around the table.  Oh, and a few eyebrows shot up.

 

“Am I to assume by the tone of your voices that you two did not enjoy developing your musical skills?” Spock questioned.

 

 Sulu shrugged.  “I just sucked at it.  Didn’t find the point of it if I made even ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ sound bad.”

 

“The flute, Spock!” Jim reiterated.  Spock looked slightly confused by the explanation, but he let it rest.  It was already well known that Jim was regularly illogical.

 

Uhura chose that moment to speak up.  “Spock learned to play the Vulcan Lyre.  He’s very good at it.”

 

“Really?”  Jim perked up. 

 

“Indeed.”

 

Selek cleared his throat.  “I believe it was you who took second place at the All-Vulcan Music Competition.”

 

Spock cocked his head in what could only be classified as amusement.  Jim thought there was a high probability that Selek had made a similar accomplishment.

 

“Wow, really, second place?  That’s pretty amazing Spock.  Who beat you, some nerdy Vulcan who had nothing better to do but practice most of the day?”

 

Spock looked at Jim in a very exasperated manner and Uhura’s eyes bugged out.

 

Sarek spoke up.  “I was the one who took first place, Captain.”

 

Sniggering giggles broke out in the group as Jim blushed a deep red.  “Er, I’m sure Spock got his musical talents from you, sir.”

 

The giggles were laughs now, and Jim scowled.  Sarek merely kept a blank face, but his eyes twinkled in good humor.

 

After several jokes at Jim’s expense, some of them left the table to mingle with other groups.  Jim pulled Selek aside.

 

“I have a favor to ask you…”

 

******

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention!”

 

The crowd quieted down, having been trained to stop and listen to the Captain.  Most of the children were burrowing their way to the front so they could see.

 

“Thank you,” Jim said.  “I hope you’re all enjoying the party.  As you all know, the gamma shift is taking care of our Lady here, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice another Christmas tradition: caroling.  I figured we could break into groups, and that way we could cover the whole ship.  So, anyone who would like to participate should meet in rec room one in five minutes.”

 

Over half of the crew present started for the exits.  Jim was glad to note the children were being shuffled along as well, without him having to say anything.  This was mostly for their benefit, after all.  Jim weaved his way back to Spock’s side.

 

“Well, Mr.Spock, care to join?”

 

Spock blinked.  “Captain, I do not sing,” he told him blandly.

 

Jim smiled.  “Will you walk with me, though?”

 

Spock eyed him uncertainly, obviously noticing that particular smile on Jim’s face which usually meant he had something planned. 

 

“I do—”

 

“Great!” Jim interrupted, “Let’s go!”

 

Spock sighed and stepped into his customary place beside the Captain.

 

When they reached the rec room, there were already three groups assembled, an equal number of children and crewmembers in each.  Jim spotted the other two Vulcans and Uhura in a corner and made his way over to them.  Uhura nodded at him and he grinned, turning to address the carolers. 

 

“Alright, everyone, I’ve got a special surprise for you all.  There happens to be three Vulcan Lyres on the ship, and I happen to have three expert players.  I’d say that amounts to one per group.  Let’s give Ambassadors Sarek and Selek and Commander Spock a hand for volunteering.”

 

The people clapped and cheered.  Sarek stood sedately during the applause, while Selek had his tiny smile in place, and Spock was alternately sharply glaring at his counterpart and Jim.

 

Jim felt a little bad about dropping this on Spock, especially since he didn’t really know if he wanted to.  Sheepishly, he turned to face his First Officer.

 

Spock granted him the patented “Vulcan is not amused” look.  “Captain, it appears you came to this decision without my input.”

 

 Jim rubbed the back of his neck.  “I’m sorry Spock.  I just thought it would be a good thing for morale.  You really don’t have to do it, if you don’t want to; Uhura can take your place.”

 

Spock tilted his head.  “I am not…averse to the suggestion.  Assuming the three Lyres which you spoke of include mine and Lieutenant Uhura’s.  I am curious as to the other one’s origin.”

 

Jim shrugged.  “I can’t believe I didn’t know you hardly go anywhere without your Lyre,” he said cryptically.  But Spock was smart, and he turned to look at his counterpart.  Jim saw the glance and slapped Spock on the shoulder, saying, “You know, you two really have a lot in common.”

 

“Indeed,” Spock said wryly.

 

******

 

The Christmas caroling around the ship was a huge hit, and everyone was satisfactorily tired when they returned to the main mess.  There were noticeably less people there now; starships didn’t run themselves, and many people had shifts in the morning.  The children were most notably lagging, though, so Jim decided it was time for one more surprise for them before they were ferried off to bed.

 

He had the children gathered into a group and Scotty handed wrapped boxes to crewmembers to pass out.  Spock lifted an eyebrow when a few of the boxes cooed if they were shaken too much. 

 

“Scotty,” Jim stagewhispered to the engineer on his left.  “You remembered to punch holes in the outer wrapping, right?”

 

Scotty was piqued.  “Oy, Captain!  I do know how to keep tribbles alive.”

 

 “Tribbles!  Jim, are you nuts?”  McCoy frowned, eyeing the boxes with slight alarm.

 

“Captain,” Spock said, “I have to agree with the Doctor.  Tribbles are notorious for multiplying rather quickly.”

 

Jim waved his hands at them in a dismissive gesture.  “Relax.  I had some of the xenobiology people come up with a concoction to sterilize these guys.  It’s scientifically proven tribbles are mood enhancers.  Nature’s own antidepressants, in a cute, furry package.”

 

Bones grunted.  Spock merely looked resigned, and maybe a little bit intrigued.

 

There were sounds of shredding paper and gasps of delight, supplemented by even more coos from the tribbles. 

 

“Where’d you get all of them?” Bones asked.

 

“Ay, that’d be Fluffy’s bairns,” Scotty explained.

 

Spock hesitantly asked, “’Fluffy’?”  Jim smiled at hearing the name come from the Vulcan’s lips.

 

“Me tribble.”  Scotty shook his head.  “Amazing wha’ the little things can do wi’ a loaf o’ bread.”

 

Yawns were starting to interject the tribble adoration, and Jim indicated for Nurse Chapel, who had one of the caretaker positions for the night, to start rounding the kids up for bed.

 

As the group was leaving, the boy, Trevor, who had barely hidden his ire all night, suddenly stopped in front of the Captain.  Jim looked down at the boy.

 

“You’re the Captain, aren’t you?”  His voice was guarded as he addressed Jim.

 

Jim nodded, wondering what the boy wanted.  As far as he knew, this was the first time he had said more than one word at a time.  “Yes, I am.”

 

The boy stood there, stock still, for several moments before his face twisted and he tossed his tribble cage at Jim.  Jim fumbled with it, the tribble inside squeaking in alarm, before he managed to keep it from falling.        

 

“It’s your fault they’re dead!” Trevor yelled, his boyish face full of rage.  The crowd went instantly still, and he spun around on them. “All of you!” he accused, looking around at the shocked faces around him.

 

Jim shoved the tribble cage into the nearest person’s hands, which happened to be Spock, and stepped forward, his face firm.  The kid could blame him all he wanted, but he had no right to accuse his crew.  The boy sensed his approach and turned back to face him. 

 

“Hey,” Jim said, grabbing the small boy firmly by the upper arms.  Trevor squirmed, beating his fists painfully though relatively harmlessly against Jim’s chest.  Jim let him burn off his frustrations and violent anger, the sludgy emotions the boy had kept buried until now.  Nobody else made a move, save for the mostly unnoticed, single Vulcan handing the tribble to Scotty and taking a concerned step forward.

 

When the boy’s arms grew tired and his fists hit less often and with less force, Jim dropped to his knees.

 

“Trevor, look at me,” he said.  Trevor dropped his hands to his sides and pointedly looked away.

 

“No.”

 

“Look at me!” Jim repeated, using the tone of voice he reserved for giving orders, pushing the full weight of his authority behind the words.  With a jerky movement Trevor faced him, grey eyes dark with anger and glossy with the press of unshed tears.

 

“If you’re going to blame someone, blame me.  But not them.  Understand?  My crew is not responsible.”

 

The boy’s muscles were tense under Jim’s hands.  He altered his grip higher to the boy’s shoulders.

 

“Why are you so angry?”

 

“You let them die,” Trevor said, his voice cracking.  Jim blinked, recalling the guilt and sense of helplessness from before.  He felt these things, but in his heart he knew some things just couldn’t be changed.

 

“Listen to me.  I’m sorry your family died.  It’s not fair.  I couldn’t get my ship there in time, and they died.”  The boy was beginning to blink rapidly, his face red from the force of his outburst and the effort not to cry.

 

“I hate it,” the boy hissed.  Jim nodded.

 

“I hate it too.  But that’s life.  You lose people, people you love, and there’s nothing you can do to get them back.  You’re not alone, though, and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.”  Jim paused.  “You can’t choose what happens to you in life, but you can choose what you do with the life you’ve been given.”

 

Jim thought of his mother, of his older brother Sam.  One too caught up in the past, forever seeing it in the present, the other trying to make due until he broke under the pressure, and ran away from it all. 

 

“You can wallow in what was and then lost, and lose sight of what you do have, or you can run away, try to forget.”  Jim swallowed, watching as a single tear cut a wet trail down Trevor’s cheek. 

 

He thought of another boy like Trevor, one Jim had seen in the mirror more often than not.  Of a boy haunted by the memory of a dead hero, who had a mother who loved him but always looked at him with large, sad eyes, of a brother who left him even more alone.  A small boy who didn’t understand why he even bothered sometimes.  And then he thought of how that boy became a man, how a dare led him down the path of redemption and wonderful adventures, and gave him new people to love. 

 

He thought of Spock, and how much the Vulcan made him feel.      

 

“Or you can face what life throws at you, accept it for what it is and what it gave or took away from you, and move forward.  Your life doesn’t have to end here, and you don’t have to let it control you.  Throw a few curve balls of your own.  Trevor, there is so much more that you can do, so many more people you can love, and who can love you.”

 

As if sensing the other’s gaze, Jim’s eyes flicked up briefly to meet the dark stare of his First Officer, a curiously soft expression displayed on his face.  The look jolted through Jim’s veins and he swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat.  He focused back on Trevor.

 

“Who are you going to be?  Who would make your family proud?” he asked. 

 

Trevor broke, his legs giving way and he collapsed into Jim’s arms.  Jim easily gathered the shuddering body and swung him up, the wet face burying into the crook of his neck.  Carrying the boy in his arms, Jim stood up and walked to the exit, the men and women he considered family parting to let him pass through, many of them also holding the colony children.

 

******

 

It was an hour or two later, Jim wasn’t sure, when the door to the observation room swished quietly open, the faint glow from the hallway cutting into the blackness of space and stars.  As if by instinct, Jim knew it was Spock.  Bones was there too, but all he did was briefly caress the sleeping Trevor’s forehead before taking him from Jim’s arms and carrying him from the room, leaving Jim alone with Spock.      

 

Jim watched Spock from the corner of his eye as he stood in the starlight, hesitating before asking, “May I sit with you?”

 

“Yes, Spock.” 

 

Spock fitted himself next to Jim on the cushioned observation bench, sitting closely enough that the edges of their clothing brushed and Jim could feel the warmth of the Vulcan body next to him.  Jim turned his attention back to the stars out the viewing window.  The ship was in warp right now, moving too fast for the stars to be the tiny pinpricks of light they were now, so he knew these were only the computer’s projection.  He couldn’t tell the difference.

 

“Jim…” Spock started.  Jim let his body sag, his head falling down on Spock’s shoulder, Spock shifting to accommodate the other better.  Jim felt a soft hand come up and lightly caress his hair, stopping to rest at the base of his neck.  Jim hoped Spock could feel how safe he felt, how accepted. 

 

“Jim,” Spock said again.

 

“I love you, Spock.”

 

Why do I keep blurting that? Jim thought, waiting in the following silence, not daring to hope or expect anything.  He expected  Spock to pull away, but his hand remained where it was.

 

“Jim,” Spock said for a third time, moving his hand so his first two fingers brushed Jim’s temple.  Every nerve there came alive, and Jim closed his eyes and just felt.

 

“I believe I share similar sentiments.”  Jim opened his eyes and shifted his body so he could look up at Spock.  Spock stared back at him, overly expressive human eyes glowing with starlight.

 

Jim’s eyes briefly flickered down, a sign of uncertaintly, before looking back up and asking, “Can you say it, just this once?  I promise I won’t make you say it again, if you don’t want to.”      

 

Spock brushed Jim’s temple again.  “I love you too, Jim.” Jim’s smile slowly filled his face, and his eyes danced.

 

“Does this mean I get to kiss you?”

 

Spock raised an eyebrow tinged with amusement.  “I believe that would be acceptable.” 

 

Jim’s smile widened as he brought his hands up and held the sides of Spock’s face and gave him a teasing expression.  “How acceptable?”

 

Spock breathed out through his nose.  “I would like you to kiss me, Jim.”

 

Jim couldn’t deny his Vulcan such a request, and their lips met, the stars and the bench falling away so it was only Jim and Spock floating in the zero gravity of space.  Life isn’t always fair, but sometimes—with a little human ingenuity and perserverance, and with the help of Christmas magic and strength of the heart—it was manageable.

 

At this point Jim could say he wouldn’t have taken his life any other way.

 

******

 

Jim watched as a woman with the same shade of brown hair as Trevor scooped the boy up in a voracious hug.  Jim smiled, catching the surprised look on Trevor’s face and the small smile that threatened to break through.  Jim had a good feeling that he would be ok.

 

 Flipping open his communicator, he said, “Kirk to Enterprise.  One to beam up.”

 

As Jim materialized on the transporter pad, he was not at all surprised to find Spock manning the controls.

 

“Miss me?” he asked with a smile, walking to the transporter room entrance and leaning against the door frame.  Spock moved from the controls to join him. 

 

“Hardly,” Spock deadpanned.  Jim, of course, knew he was lying.  “The last of the colonists are now reunited with their families or in Starfleet custody until their legal guardians can arrive.”

 

“That’s great,” Jim said.  “Let the bridge know we’ll be ready to head to Gre’T’lin within the hour.  We’ve got a couple ambassadors that need to sign a treaty.  I think your father has had enough of illogical human customs for one year.”

 

“Yes, Captain.” 

 

Business done, Jim let his body relax and he leaned in closer to his new lover, dropping into his sultry voice.  “How was your Christmas, Mr. Spock?”

 

Spock looked on in amusement, but did not drawl away.  “I found it to be highly irrational and frivolous.”

 

Jim pouted.

 

“However,” Spock continued, “it adequately served its purpose.”

 

“And what purpose was that?”

 

“It served to, as they say, ‘Bring the family together in joy and celebration.’”

 

“Damn straight it did!” Jim enthused.  “I think it should be a new tradition on the Enterprise.

 

Spock sighed.  “Jim, it has been two days since the party and we have yet to finish putting away the decorations.”

 

Jim hummed in thought, placing his hand under his chin and tapping his pointer finger on his cheek.  “You mean, like that decoration?”  He pointed up, Spock following the direction with his eyes.

 

Phoradendron flavescens,” Spock said, curious. 

 

“It’s mistletoe, Spock,” Jim said with a wide smirk.

 

Spock lifted an eyebrow in confusion.  “Jim, this deck was not decor—“

 

Jim shut him up with a traditional Christmas kiss.

 

 

 

 

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