December was a dull month. Even on the Starship Enterprise, without the natural cycles of weather or the tilt of the earth creating shorter, darker, colder days, December was still a dull month this year. Perhaps for some of the crew it was to do with being away from home at Christmas. Perhaps for others it was because the ship was coming towards the end of a gruesomely long haul of relentless to-ing and fro-ing across this sector of the galaxy.
For James Kirk pinning down the reason why was not difficult at all. Only a few weeks ago he had lost his wife, and he had lost his unborn child. Perhaps they had been people out of time. Perhaps he had been stranded, amnesiac, on a world that was not his – but he had loved Miramanee, and he had known that he was going to love his child, the fascinating blend of his blond, bronzed looks and Miramanee’s sleek darkness that he could not picture in his mind no matter how hard he tried.
Bereavement was part of the game on an active starship – but no one expected it to come like that. That was why families were not allowed on the ship. And – oh God, it played in his mind, over and over – to see her set upon, stoned until she failed and died… To see her lying there, so still and so calm, slipping closer to that darkness called death… Day by day he pushed the vision aside – and night by night it stole back and hovered before his eyes and inhabited every convoluted surface of his mind, until his mind was nothing but a whisper of Miramanee, Miramanee, Miramanee…
Like waves upon an ocean shore… Like the little, lapping waves of the lake that they had lived beside – that was the sound of her name, spoken over and over in his mind until it became a susurration and nothing else. Eventually, it would send him into a stupor, and then sleep.
‘Spock, I’m worried about Jim.’
McCoy was leaning against his desk in the compact CMO’s office in sickbay, a glass of some unspecified amber liquid in his hand. Spock eyed the liquid, taking in the scent and deciding it was bourbon.
‘Yes, Spock, it’s Kentucky’s finest,’ the doctor said, registering the direction of Spock’s gaze. ‘Want to say something about it?’
‘Not at all, doctor,’ Spock said smoothly – since he had already considered the subject and decided that since technically the doctor was off duty at this time, there was no valid objection he could make. ‘You were speaking of the captain?’
‘You want some?’ McCoy asked, hoisting the bottle. ‘Want to sit down?’
‘No,’ Spock said concisely, to both invitations. ‘The captain?’
‘Yes… He’s not been himself since Amerind, Spock. Locking himself away in his cabin, shunning social occasions…’
‘He is grieving,’ Spock said reasonably.
McCoy snorted. ‘You say that like you understand grief, Spock. The man lost his wife. He lost his unborn child. Can a Vulcan understand that?’
Spock’s eyes narrowed slightly, but his expression barely changed.
‘Vulcans also have families, doctor,’ he said softly. ‘We are not entire devoid of family feeling – or of compassion.’
McCoy regarded him steadily over the top of his glass. Finally, he shook his head and sighed.
‘I guess you do, Spock,’ he said slowly. ‘Adopted or otherwise. I’m sorry. I’m forgetting that you went without rest for two months in the effort to get that man to safety…’
‘No apology is necessary,’ Spock said. ‘My motive was the prevention of the destruction of an entire planet, its inhabitants and its ecosystem.’
‘And Jim,’ McCoy said softly.
Spock paused for a moment, and then relented.
‘And Jim,’ he conceded with a thin, almost imperceptible sigh.
McCoy rotated his glass in his hands, then asked, ‘Are you sure you won’t have any, Spock? It’s good stuff.’
‘I am quite certain, Doctor,’ Spock nodded. ‘You asked me here to discuss Jim. I am assuming since you’re off duty that this is not in a professional capacity?’
‘I don’t have any fears for his physical or mental wellbeing, if that’s what you mean,’ McCoy said dryly. ‘At least, not for his sanity. But – we need to do something , Spock. We need to get him through this.’
Spock pressed his lips together, and nodded.
‘I concur,’ he said, lowering his voice a little despite the fact that there was no one to overhear. ‘His efficiency on the bridge is seven percent below average, and his depression is affecting crew morale. What do you propose?’
‘I don’t know what I propose!’ the doctor said in frustration. ‘That’s why I asked you here. You’re the one with the genius intellect. Can’t you propose something?’
Spock shuffled from foot to foot, uncharacteristically at a loss. Then he said, ‘In forty-nine hours time the ship will enter the space docks at Minerva 7, and spend approximately a week there undergoing an essential structural survey. The ship was weakened by our retreat before the asteroid en route to Amerind, and Mr Scott believes it necessary to carry out a full external check of all hull components.’
‘What are you getting at, Spock?’ McCoy asked curiously.
Spock finally relented of his military posture, moving over to the doctor’s shelves and examining the curios that he kept there. He picked a fang-toothed skull from its niche and turned it over in its hands.
‘I am almost certain that the First Officer and Chief Medical Officer together would be able to secure a week’s leave for the captain, especially in light of his recent experiences.’
‘Jim wouldn’t go,’ McCoy said firmly. ‘Why are you suddenly so interested in that blasted skull?’
Spock replaced the skull with great care on the shelf.
‘It merely struck me as curious, as we were talking of Minerva 7, that you should have the skull of a Minervan k’jhant in your collection.’
‘That’s all you know,’ the doctor harrumphed. ‘It’s the skull of a Rigelian tiger sloth!’
Spock glanced at the skull briefly, and then turned his attention back to the doctor.
‘The captain would go,’ he said. ‘It is possible to compel the captain to go.’
‘Spock, we couldn’t do that!’ McCoy protested.
‘We could do that,’ Spock corrected him. ‘We would not, but we could. I believe that the threat will be enough. I will hire a cabin and a vehicle and all that is needed, and I will accompany the captain to Minerva and I will attempt to – relieve him from his preoccupation.’
A slow smile spread over the doctor’s face. ‘By God, Spock, it might just work. If you’re willing to lie to him about enforcing the leave…’
A frown furrowed Spock’s forehead for the shortest of instants.
‘It would not be a lie, as such. Perhaps – an exaggeration of intent?’
‘However you want to word it, Spock,’ McCoy grinned. ‘Taking Jim away for Christmas – that’s just what he needs!’
Spock turned his head sharply to look at the doctor, an eyebrow rising.
‘Spock, with all of those neurons firing in there, don’t tell me you forgot it’s Christmas next week?’ the doctor asked him in exasperation.
‘Christmas does not hold a great importance in my life, doctor,’ Spock reminded him. ‘I am neither human, nor Christian.’
‘Are you telling me your mother never celebrated Christmas when you were growing up?’
Spock tilted his head a little to one side as he considered how to reply. His mother had celebrated Christmas, every year. He had grown used to the exchange of gifts and to a carefully vegetarian version of Christmas dinner, and to the carefully nurtured and lovingly decorated pine tree in the corner of the library, no matter how perplexingly illogical the custom seemed to both him and his father. He had, dare he admit it, even looked forward to the day, not least for the joy in his mother’s face as she unwrapped his carefully chosen gifts.
‘My mother did celebrate Christmas,’ he said economically.
‘I can just picture her, sitting there on Christmas morning, raised eyebrows all round,’ McCoy said cynically. ‘You know, maybe I should rent that cabin…’
‘You need not worry, doctor,’ the Vulcan said firmly. ‘I have a full understanding of the mechanics of Christmas. The captain will not be disappointed.’
‘Hmm…’ the doctor said doubtfully.
Spock turned towards the door.
‘You’ll get him a gift?’ McCoy asked.
‘I will get him a gift,’ Spock said, turning back with infinite patience in his tone.
‘And a tree?’
‘The flora of Minerva 7 makes it unlikely that I will find a coniferous evergreen,’ Spock said doubtfully. ‘But – I will do my best.’
The doctor grinned, his mood suddenly five shades lighter than before. He clapped a hand on Spock’s back, and was rewarded with a momentary expression of surprise and annoyance.
‘I know you’ll do your best, Spock – you always do,’ the doctor said cheerfully, draining the last of the bourbon from his glass. ‘I’ll get going on drafting that leave request. You promise you’ll back me up?’
‘To fail to do so would be quite illogical,’ Spock said gravely. ‘I assume, doctor, that you think it best to keep the captain uninformed of the proposed leave until nearer the time?’
‘Your assumption would be correct, Spock,’ McCoy said as he poured another measure of liquid into his glass. ‘Your assumption would be quite correct.’
As Spock left, McCoy picked up the fanged skull the Vulcan had been rotating in his hands and regarded it critically.
‘A Minervan k’jhant ,’ he murmured softly. ‘Well, I’ll be damned…’
The Enterprise was in high orbit, and it was waiting, like a ferry waiting to enter port or an aircraft waiting to land.In two hours their allotted niche would be free, and the ship would be docking at the great Minervan space docks, that hovered in geo-stationary orbit high above the cloud-wreathed planet that slowly turned in black space. As beautiful as any constructed object could be, the docks glittered like a jewel, the light from pin-prick windows and exterior spotlights shining clear through space and striking the hulls of the many varied ships that hung within the safety of its docking cradles. The structure was enormous, and almost looked organic, and it enfolded ships from run-of-the-mill Starfleet vessels to exotic crafts from societies that James Kirk had never even heard of. Hanging their in space, attached to their docking arms by umbilicals and tethers, they looked like so many origami birds, suspended there for luck.
Luck… Luck was something that James Kirk felt he had not seen for a long time. Perhaps he should consider himself lucky that Amerind had been saved, that his memory had come back to him and his ship had come through the strain of its journey before the asteroid with all hands unharmed. But he did not. Loss hovered before his eyes and clouded his brain. He had lost Miramanee, whom he had loved. He had lost that unnamed, un-developed child. He had lost a life that he had never expected to have, a home that he had never imagined loving. How far away this was from those simple and perfect shores on Amerind… The thin hide walls of a tent were about as far from a starship hull as one could get.
Sometimes he wondered why he had ever left the simple, expansive landscape of Iowa for this life of stress and strain. He could have been a farmer, and raised maize and wheat and perhaps some cattle. He could have been sitting now on the bench outside the old house, the wheat rippling in the breeze in the fields around him…
But no. He straightened up in the captain’s chair, recalling himself to reality. In some places, in those natural places that were allotted weather and seasons, it was winter. In all likelihood the fields were covered with waist-deep snow, and the wheat was nothing but old stubble beneath its white blanket, and it would be too cold to even consider sitting on that bench and regarding the view. He needed to remember reality, to have a gift dispatched for his mother, to pick out something for his nephews, Peter and his two older brothers.
He eyed the glistening space docks, and forced his mind back for now into the practical alignment of a starship captain, judging docking speeds and angles, wondering if the arranged rotas for shore leave were suitable, wondering if there was a nice bar somewhere on the commercial arm of the docks where he could drink, and drink, and –
He looked up, startled, to see Spock at his elbow, impeccable as usual. No matter how the last quarter year had strained him, Spock always looked effortlessly fresh.
‘Uh – yes, Mr Spock,’ he said, his own voice sounding strange to him after being lost in his own thoughts. Somewhere in his mind he always sounded like a fifteen year old boy.
‘Space docks have signalled their readiness for our approach,’ Spock said. ‘May I suggest that you go and prepare for your shore leave? I can command during docking manoeuvres.’
‘Shore leave?’ Kirk looked up at him now, puzzled. ‘Spock, I haven’t scheduled any shore leave for myself.’
Wordlessly, Spock handed him a datapadd. The captain glanced at it, and then, seeing his own name, and McCoy’s tight, sloping handwriting, he began to read.
‘You and Dr McCoy are enforcing shore leave?’ he asked slowly, a surge of resistance rising in his chest, mingling with disbelief at his officers’ actions. ‘You and Dr McCoy together have taken it upon yourself to declare me unfit for duty, and to enforce shore leave on me?’
‘Enforce is perhaps – ’ the Vulcan began, but Kirk shook his head. He didn’t feel like arguing. He had not felt like arguing for weeks.
‘All right, Spock,’ he said in a tired voice. ‘I’ll take this necessary shore leave. You and Bones obviously think it’s important. Just – take care of the ship during the overhaul, won’t you?’
‘That will not be necessary,’ Spock said smoothly. ‘Mr Scott will be commanding the ship during the overhaul. I will be accompanying you.’
Kirk stared at Spock in utter bewilderment. In all the years he had served alongside the Vulcan he had never known him to voluntarily take shore leave, unless it was on Vulcan.
‘Mr Spock, would you care to explain?’ he began.
‘Both the doctor and myself believe that you need a vacation,’ Spock said plainly. ‘I wish to join you. There is little more to explain.’
Kirk regarded him with narrowed eyes. ‘Little more to explain…’ he said with suspicion. ‘Very well, Mr Spock. Can you tell me what time I’m expected to depart?’
‘Nineteen hundred hours,’ Spock said without hesitation. ‘I have transport booked from the space docks. Shall I take the con, Captain?’
‘Oh – yes, yes, of course,’ Kirk said, still sounding puzzled and suspicious.
He vacated the chair and waited for the Vulcan to sit. Spock looked up at him momentarily.
‘Is there something else you require, Captain?’
‘No, Spock. Nothing at all,’ the captain said. He pulled his top straight, took a last look at the space docks on the viewscreen at the front of the bridge, and nodded. ‘I’ll see you in the transporter room at seventeen hundred.’
‘Of course, Captain,’ Spock said. As the captain turned towards the steps to the upper bridge the Vulcan added in a low, almost reticent voice, ‘Merry Christmas.’
The space docks at Minerva 7 had grown over the years from a simple garage-in-space for passing trade, to an elegant and well-provided space station. The place was filled with shops, hotels and restaurants, and even an art gallery had opened up recently in the retail arm.
Kirk looked about at the bars and cafes that surrounded the transporter area with muted interest. There was the low throb of music emanating from the nearest bar, and a woman wearing far too little clothing for the ambient temperature of the station was just slipping through the door. Jim had always found solace in women for a variety of troubles in his life, and now was no exception. He would have happily followed the long-legged, glossy-haired woman into the bar and unleashed every ounce of charm he owned upon her. He would not have got drunk – that was not his style. He would never, for an instant, lose control – but he would have left the bar with a perfectly willing and pliant young lady, and he would have entertained her to the utmost of his ability, and both of them would have woken up in the morning with a curious sense of contentment in doing something wrong.
He glanced at Spock, still dressed rigidly in his blue uniform despite the imminent shore leave. Spock’s eyes passed over the bars and milling pedestrians with no more than a scientific interest in the social interactions that were going on. Spock, no doubt, found all of this fascinating, but he would have no desire to join in. Besides, they had a schedule, and Jim would not interfere with Spock’s schedule for all the feminine motivation in the world…
‘So, where’s this shuttle docked at?’ he asked the Vulcan, looking about himself.
‘Dock C, pad ninety-three,’ Spock said without hesitation. ‘That is – in that direction,’ he said, pointing toward a corridor that branched off to the left. No doubt he had fully memorised the station schematics before beaming down.
‘Dock C it is then,’ Kirk nodded.
He had to admit that he felt a little strange. He was Spock’s commanding officer – he still was – but in this situation Spock was in control. He was Spock’s friend, but he had never before taken a vacation with him. He had barely done more than shared friendly chess games in his cabin or in the rec rooms on the Enterprise . Spock was not a social being, at least past a certain point. Vacations were illogical when an evening of meditation could achieve the same result, and no matter how many times McCoy had tried to impress upon Spock the joys of relaxing in new and interesting places, Spock had never been convinced.
‘So, may I ask what you have planned for this leave?’ Kirk asked the Vulcan.
He could not imagine what a Vulcan might see as entertaining. Perhaps museums and art galleries, or a tour of a scientific institution or two. Minerva 7 was renowned for its science academy.
Spock was moving through the milling crowds with the grace of a cat, carrying both of their suitcases of clothes and necessary items. He barely spared a glance for his captain, intent on the most efficient path towards the nearby corridor.
‘I have very little planned,’ he said honestly. ‘I had been taking ‘vacation’ at its most literal meaning. This is meant to be a week of rest.’
‘Oh, of course… Because I’m a basket-case,’ Kirk muttered, a sense of darkness coming over him suddenly.
Spock looked at him sharply at those words.
‘Indeed not. Because you have suffered a bereavement and apparently also a significant brain injury, albeit some months ago. According to the good doctor recovery from both of these things can take a considerable amount of time. Your role as captain of a starship gives you little time for relaxation, even when you are nominally off-duty. This week, however, you will have no such concerns.’
Kirk looked sideways at him, suddenly worried.
‘Spock, I’m not going to be out of communication with the ship, am I?’ he asked.
‘We will be contactable,’ Spock assured him. ‘However, I see little reason for the need to occur. Now – ’
They had arrived at the entrance to a large, cavernous shuttle bay, half full with sleek space-to-surface shuttles each waiting on their allotted pads.
‘That, I believe, is our craft,’ Spock said, pointing a long finger towards a sleek, black, highly-aerodynamic looking shuttle a few yards away.
They approached the craft, and Spock took a slim chip on a key ring out of his pocket. When he passed it over the shuttle’s lock, a muted click was heard from within, and the hatch swung open easily under Spock’s hand.
Jim took one last doubtful look through the dock window, where he could see the Enterprise in the distance, moored at its own external gantry – and then he swallowed on his doubts, and entered the craft. The ship had managed without him before. It would manage without him now.
The cabin was exactly as Spock had visualised it – after all, he had familiarised himself with the place through its listed statistics and its holographic tour brochure, so there was very little that could surprise him about it. What did surprise him, however, were the billows and drifts of snow heaped up around the place. The snow was pushed up to the windowsills on the south side of the cabin, and the door was only accessible because a thoughtful person had visited and vaporised the snow that had obviously until recently covered it almost halfway up its height.
‘I did not expect this,’ he confessed to Kirk as they stepped out of the hired shuttle.
As the chill of the sub-zero air touched his skin he suppressed a shiver. He could only be grateful that he had taken the precaution of packing for cold weather – although thicker boots would have been pleasant.
‘Didn’t expect what?’ Jim asked, looking about himself at the undulating land and the scattered, snow-heavy trees. He found the cold, almost metallic scent of clean snow oddly refreshing.
‘Weather reports had not indicated snow,’ Spock said with a slight furrow between his brows.
‘Well, all weathermen are entitled to get it wrong sometimes,’ Jim said lightly. ‘Anyway, there’s nothing like a good covering of snow.’
Spock glanced at him. He had noticed that the captain’s mood had lightened more and more the further from the ship they had travelled. That, at least, was a good thing, despite the snow.
He eyed the miles of whiteness that was spread about them. Was it possible that he found the snow slightly threatening? Not surprising, perhaps, for a desert-bred being such as himself – but unacceptable to a Vulcan who could control his reactions. He shook off the slight sense of uncertainty, and turned to the cabin door. Inside it would be warm and dry, at least.
As they stepped inside Spock felt a flicker of gratitude toward the cabin owners. The heating had been turned on in advance, and the warm air enveloped him like loving arms as he stepped into what was evidently a sitting room. He suppressed a slight shiver that had come in reaction to the change in temperature, and put the cases down on the floor.
‘It seems quite suitable,’ he remarked to Kirk, taking particular notice of the quiet, appreciative smile that had crept over his captain’s face.
‘It does indeed,’ Kirk said, striding immediately back to the window and looking out restlessly. ‘Good hiking country,’ he added. ‘I’m glad I brought my boots.’
If Spock could have admitted to such emotions, he would have felt disappointment, mixed with apprehension. He would hike through such weather and landscape without a moment’s thought if it was in the line of duty, but the idea of going out into three foot deep snow in the name of fun seemed illogical to the extreme.
Kirk glanced sideways at him, and chuckled.
‘Snow really isn’t your thing, is it, Spock?’
‘I prefer a warmer climate,’ Spock admitted, joining his captain.
The snow-reflected light that flooded in through the window was faintly blue, and very clear, like a blue-tinted version of the light that reflected from the white sands of La-khut on his home planet. But the air that hovered near the windowpane was chill and Spock could not say that he found it pleasant.
If anything, Spock was surprised that the captain gave him an entire day’s grace before giving in to his urge to dress up in thick, weather-proof clothing and stride through knee-deep snow. Spending a day in the warm, well-furnished surroundings of the cabin made the cold outside no more pleasant, though, when he was finally required to step out into it.
‘Do you have a plan for this hike, Jim?’ he asked the captain curiously.
Kirk shot him a hurt look. ‘I’m the captain of a starship, Spock. Do you really think I’d set out into snow like this without a concrete plan?’
Spock tilted his head in a movement that was neither an acknowledgement nor a denial.
‘We’re going to go – thataway,’ Kirk said in a rather less certain tone, waving his hand towards the distant rising hills.
‘You have a map?’ Spock enquired.
‘I have a map, food, emergency rations and even an emergency shelter, just in case,’ Kirk assured him, hefting his rucksack to show it to the Vulcan. ‘All you need to do to erect the tent is pull this cord.’
Spock examined the bundled shelter that was bound to the top of Kirk’s rucksack with mild interest, and then looked towards the reassuringly solid shuttle that was parked only a few feet away.
‘It would be much quicker to reach the hills in the shuttle,’ he pointed out.
‘Quicker isn’t the point, Spock,’ Kirk said firmly. ‘This will be fun.’
Spock raised an eyebrow a minute amount.
‘This is your pack,’ Kirk said, pointing to another well-stuffed bag on the ground. ‘Now, you’ve got your extra-thick Vulcan underwear on, haven’t you?’
He laughed at Spock’s martyred expression, but Spock was content to humour him purely for the reward of seeing his captain in such a light-hearted mood.
‘I am adequately dressed,’ he nodded, picking up his bag and pushing his arms through the straps. ‘Shall we proceed?’
The first part of the trek passed largely in silence, with Kirk looking at the landscape ahead of him with a kind of hardened determination, and Spock assessing it calmly, with carefully concealed distaste. Despite the clothing that he had been certain was quite adequate, the cold was seeping into his toes and pressing through the fabric of his gloves, and every steaming breath that left his mouth reminded him of the heat that he was losing.
‘You’re not enjoying this, are you, Spock?’ Kirk asked finally, looking sideways at the Vulcan.
Spock tilted his head. His hat was pulled down far over his ears and forehead, but he found himself wishing for a balaclava. His boots were caked in packed snow, and there was yet more snow swirling from the sky.
‘Enjoyment is a human privilege,’ he said evasively.
Kirk laughed, and the sound seemed very small in the vast, majestic surroundings they stood in.
‘In other words, you hate it,’ the captain nodded. ‘Spock – thank you for coming,’ he said with sudden seriousness. ‘I really do appreciate it.’
Spock stopped his monotonous trudge, and turned to Jim.
‘Your company, despite the inclement weather, makes this a perfectly acceptable excursion,’ he said. ‘McCoy, I think, would call it a bonding exercise. You have been too far distant since your return from Amerind.’
‘Well,’ Kirk said slowly, his thoughts suddenly seeming to internalise. ‘Amerind was – another time and place, Spock. There – isn’t much common frame of reference for discussion.’
‘That doesn’t make it impossible to discuss,’ Spock said quietly.
Kirk stared into the white wilderness ahead of them. The hills rose up under their blanket of snow almost straight before his eyes, far steeper and higher than they had looked from the cabin. The snow had disguised the crags of cliffs and the severity of the incline from a distance.
This was all so far different from the mild climate of Amerind. He thought of Miramanee, of the softness of her skin and her ability to let his head rest in her lap and soothe away every worry from his mind with the slow stroking of her fingers. The darkness of her hair falling like a curtain, like the dark quiet of night settling in his mind.
Oh, Miramanee …
Sometimes it was impossible to believe that the brightness of a life could be ended so abruptly – that a person’s face could never been seen again. He remembered that quiet and modest grave, Miramanee lying somewhere beneath a heaped quilt of earth, wrapped in her best blanket as if she had fallen asleep instead of slipping away to another world. Miramanee, and their unborn child…
He blinked, blinking away the sharp heat of tears in his eyes, startled by the cold that surrounded him, and by Spock’s patient gaze so close to him.
‘I’m sorry, Spock,’ he said briskly, shaking himself. ‘Ignore me.’
‘I will not,’ Spock said seriously.
‘Spock, I didn’t come here to talk about Miramanee,’ Kirk said dismissively. ‘All that’s been and gone. It’s not relevant any more.’
‘Relevance is a matter of – ’
Spock broke off abruptly, cocking his head to look up the steep hillside that rose up from where they stood. He snapped out one word.
Kirk made to turn and run, but Spock grabbed his arm so firmly he could not move.
‘No time,’ Spock said.
He ripped at something on Kirk’s back, and as the captain wondered what on earth the Vulcan was doing he heard a whumph , and Spock was standing with the emergency shelter inflated in his hand, like a ridiculous and enormous novelty balloon.
He didn’t need telling. Spock threw the shelter to the ground and they both dove for the door, sliding into the cramped interior with no thought of comfort or elegance. He saw Spock’s arm reaching past him to zip the door closed – and then a surprising moment of silence fell.
‘I hope it’s strong enough,’ Kirk began – and there was a cataclysmic tumble and rush of something heavy enveloping the tent.
The tent was picked up by the snow and began to turn as if it were the drum of a washing machine. The whole process seemed to last for a fleeting eternity, the tumbling happening forever, and then suddenly stopping. There was silence again, and a darkness as if night had fallen in an instant.
‘I believe – it is strong enough,’ Spock said after a moment, with an unusually noticeable tone of relief in his voice.
‘It’s supposed to withstand gales,’ Kirk said quietly. ‘But avalanches… Are you hurt, Spock?’
‘Bruised only,’ Spock said briefly. ‘You, Captain?’
‘Oh, I’m fine,’ Kirk said. He sounded out of breath, but nothing more.
Spock exhaled in the darkness. ‘Did you bring a light, Captain?’ he asked.
‘Somewhere in my pack,’ Kirk nodded. ‘Think it’s stopped coming down, Spock? We could try to burrow out…’
Somehow he could feel Spock’s raised eyebrow even though he could not see it.
‘Judging by the level of darkness I would guess there are at least ten metres of rather densely packed snow above us,’ Spock said calmly. ‘Burrowing out would be impossible. Add to that the danger of further avalanches, and – ’
‘Are you saying we should just lie here in a tomb of snow and wait for the air to run out?’ Kirk asked acerbically.
‘No, Captain. As long as we stay relatively calm and still the air in this tent should last us a considerable time. And the good doctor was scheduled to visit us at the cabin later today.’
‘Bones was dropping in?’ Kirk asked. ‘You didn’t tell me!’
‘It was a surprise,’ Spock said rather reluctantly.
‘Anyway, how will that help us?’ Kirk asked. ‘Bones won’t know where we are.’
‘I left a message including our expected return time. If we are not back within the hour the good doctor will, I’m sure, become concerned. He will attempt to find us.’
Kirk sighed, and lay back on the fabric of the tent. He had no idea which way up the tent was any more, but at least the fabric was relatively well insulated.
‘Before the avalanche, we were speaking of Miramanee,’ Spock said after a short silence.
‘Spock,’ Kirk began in a low voice, then said in frustration, ‘You’ve got me trapped here now… If I didn’t know better I’d suspect you of orchestrating this whole thing!’
‘I cannot influence nature in such a way,’ Spock said with perhaps a hint of regret. ‘But – we are trapped here. Jim, your efficiency as ship’s captain has reduced noticeably since you returned from Amerind. You have suffered a bereavement, and you will not speak of it. Humans often benefit from talking about such things.’
‘Would you want to talk about it?’ Jim asked darkly.
‘No,’ Spock said honestly. ‘Vulcans have a range of techniques at their disposal to alleviate grief. But – it is possible that talking would help, even me.’
‘Well…’ Kirk said slowly.
He subsided into silence. He could feel Spock in the darkness, waiting in patient silence. He closed his eyes and thought of Miramanee, of lying with her in the soft sunshine on grass made brittle by the summer heat, of lying under the shelter of the tent and listening to the quiet sounds of nature outside. She made him think of summer breezes, of soft water lapping on the shores of the lake. Her voice was a lullaby to him, always wise and always a comfort.
‘I loved her, Spock,’ he said eventually, the pain causing a hitch in his voice.
The dark and the cold felt like a safe space – like a place out of time. Spock listened in silence, no sign of his presence in the darkness apart from the slight noise of his breathing and the feeling of his arm against Jim’s, unmoving.
‘I – don’t know how it’s possible to fall in love so deep and so hard in two months,’ Jim continued, ‘but I did. It was like – do you ever have a dream, Spock, and wake up believing it was real, even for just a few minutes?’
‘Occasionally,’ Spock admitted quietly, the wistful tone in his voice surprising Jim briefly. ‘Your dream was Amerind – and your reality was the ship…’
‘Yes,’ Kirk muttered. ‘Yes, that damn sterile ship, all those people relying on me. Recycled air and plastic in everything. I never thought I’d be the type to fall for a place like Amerind. When I got out of Iowa I thought I’d left the country behind. But something about that place was right. Miramanee was…’
Her fingers stroking his cheeks, catching on the stubble that had begun to grow. Her hair hanging down and touching him like a breeze as she spoke of something. His mind would wander in those times. He would forget to listen to anything but the soft undulation of her voice .
He could feel the heat of tears on his face. He was glad of the darkness then, although he knew that Spock was probably aware of his state simply by the effect it had on his breathing.
‘In many ways Amerind was the complete antithesis to your life on the Enterprise ,’ Spock said. ‘You have often expressed a desire to spend time in such a place. Perhaps you are fonder of your Iowa countryside than you believe.’
Jim smiled then, thinking of wheat fields stretching into the distance, every ear of wheat bending in synchrony under the same wind, and of the wide and endless sky, and the exhilarating joy of the storms that sometimes touched the earth.
‘Perhaps I am, Spock,’ he admitted. ‘For a while I thought that all I wanted to do was get out of that backwater and live my life – but I have good, warm memories of that place…’
‘Your love for Miramanee is in no way diminished by the shortness of the time you knew her,’ Spock continued quietly. ‘It is in no way invalidated by her death. Your time on Amerind is not invalidated by the fact that you are no longer there.’
‘I thought I’d slipped into a perfect life,’ Jim said wistfully. ‘I didn’t remember the ship. I didn’t remember any of it. Didn’t miss any of it. Everything seemed to come so easily. Nothing but the ground and the sky and the living things around us… No responsibility.’
‘And yet – you found yourself attaining the position of Medicine Chief,’ Spock pointed out.
‘I didn’t mean for that to happen… There was this kid – he almost drowned in the lake…’
Memory swam back, of that brief pulse of panic at seeing the boy carried in, cold and slippery with lake water, his chest still as if in death. He had no idea of how the knowledge had come to him. It was all there, he supposed, ready to be plucked by reflex from his mind. And he had performed mouth to mouth, and the boy had lived, and –
‘Jim,’ Spock said softly. ‘You are a leader. Even on Amerind, with no memory and no conscious desire to take such a position, you found yourself rising above the rest. Your actions, your decisions, led you to accept responsibility over a community of people – just as you did in becoming captain of the Enterprise . It – is your place, Captain.’
Kirk laughed shortly. ‘Are you saying I have no choice, Spock? No matter what I do, I’ll always end up in that position?’
‘Perhaps I am,’ Spock nodded.
‘I don’t – miss her – just because I miss Amerind, Spock. It’s not just about responsibility, and running away from it.’
‘There is little that takes more responsibility than choosing to take a wife, and have a child. I don’t suggest that your love for Miramanee was in any way unreal. But to constantly compare your life on the ship with your life on Amerind is illogical. They were both your life, Jim. One does not invalidate the other. Grieving for Miramanee will not bring her back – but allowing yourself a healthy expression of grief will help you to process your pain, and to remember her with something other than sadness.’
‘I didn’t know Vulcans were versed in bereavement counselling,’ Kirk said rather darkly.
‘We are versed in techniques for controlling and processing emotions,’ Spock reminded him. ‘I am versed in techniques for controlling more human responses. My instructors took great care of that.’
Was there a hint of bitterness in the Vulcan’s voice? Kirk turned his head toward him in the darkness.
‘I can’t go wailing all over the ship like an emotional wreck,’ he said.
‘No,’ Spock nodded. ‘But you can confide in your friends. The doctor and I are here for you. We expect you to speak to us of Miramanee. Such sharing is one of the facets of friendship.’
The thought of her built in Kirk’s chest until it became unbearable. The solidity and reality of her. The knowledge of the red blood that beat in her veins, and the joy that lit her face when she listened to music and the softness of her hands on his skin…
Something broke inside him, and he was crying, silently and ceaselessly, the tears starting hot and then cooling to freezing streaks in the chill air of the tent.
Spock waited silently, his arm always touching Jim’s, but making no movement to comfort him. Jim sat still, grateful for Spock’s tact, letting the emotion pour through him until he felt exhausted and empty.
The silence grew around them, stretching out until it felt like something solid. Jim found himself growing sleepy, warmth wrapping around him as the air in the tent was heated by their bodies and used up by their lungs. His head slipped sideways, and he was aware that it had slumped onto Spock’s shoulder – but he could not find the motivation to move, comfortable as he was…
As if waking from a dream, cold blasted his face and freezing air was gasped into his lungs by the reflex movement of his chest. He blinked open his eyes to light, and to the face of McCoy, his eyes wide with worry, his scanner warbling in his hand.
‘For God’s sake, Jim, I leave you for a few days to take a harmless holiday – ’ he was saying in an exasperated tone.
‘Spock said you’d find us,’ was the only response that Kirk could bring into his muddled mind.
He looked sideways, seeing the Vulcan beside him still, reclining in the snow-scattered ruins of their tent, his eyes blinking open and squinting against the brilliant light.
‘Won’t run out of air, then, Spock?’ he muttered.
Spock focussed on his captain’s face, and then looked up at McCoy, sitting up with surprising swiftness.
‘We did not run out of air,’ he said reasonably. ‘Else we would be dead.’
‘Bones, how did you find us?’ Kirk asked incredulously.
‘Knowing your talent for getting yourself into trouble, I got worried when you weren’t back at the cabin on time,’ McCoy said, reaching out his hand to help the captain stand.
Jim uncrunched himself from his position on the ground, feeling muscles protest throughout his body. He stood, rubbing his gloved hand over his face, self-consciously trying to brush away the traces of tears that were probably invisible anyway. He took in a deep breath, filling his lungs with cold, cold air, feeling curiously light and free for the first time in weeks.
‘I took your shuttle and followed a tried and tested detective technique,’ McCoy continued, offering a hand to Spock, who refused and stood without help. ‘I flew low, and followed the track you’d broken in the snow. When it ended in a slew of snow at the bottom of this mountain, I guessed you were underneath it. So I used my tricorder to locate you, and the shuttle thrusters to blow the snow away. And here we are. So, are either of you going to thank me?’
Kirk exchanged a glance with Spock, and then said graciously, ‘Thank you, Bones. We’re both very grateful.’
Spock nodded silently, gloved hands clasped behind his back.
‘Yes,’ McCoy said, glancing at Spock, his voice laden with suspicion. ‘Thanks, Jim. So. It’s cold out here. Shall we get back to the cabin and celebrate the fact that neither of you two are dead?’
A tall, coniferous tree stood in the corner of the cabin, propped up by little more than hope and a few stones wedged about its trunk in the bucket in which it stood. The captain was standing beside it, pulling long and sparkling items out of a box and lifting them to the light, before draping them over parts of the tree with an apparently artful intent. He was murmuring under his breath as he worked, only half carrying a tune.
‘Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, how lovely are your bra-anches…’
He turned to see Spock staring at him in perplexity.
‘Captain, why would one address an inanimate object such as a Christmas tree?’
‘Spock, have you ever listened to song lyrics?’ Kirk asked him. ‘Have you ever known them to make sense?’
‘I have,’ Spock nodded. ‘Although I do admit that it is rare…’
‘About as rare as Vulcan snow,’ McCoy muttered cynically. ‘And Vulcan merry Christmasses.’
Spock’s eyebrow rose.
‘There was at least one Christmas on Vulcan every year until I left home,’ he said lightly.
‘You mean you actually sat on Santa’s knee and demanded presents?’ McCoy asked wickedly. ‘You would have been mistaken for an elf!’
Spock looked injured, and did not respond.
‘Bones,’ Kirk said quietly, shaking his head.
‘Well, okay,’ McCoy conceded. ‘I guess you know more about Christmas than I gave you credit for, Spock. You’ve certainly managed to shoehorn Jim into the spirit for it.’
Jim turned back to the tree, draping another strand of the tinsel over the boughs, thinking how this would have delighted Miramanee. She would have been sad, perhaps, at cutting the tree down, but they would have compromised, and decorated a tree growing where it stood, outside in the cool air and under the sky. They would have exchanged gifts on Christmas morning, and he would have explained what the day meant to him, and she would have promised to share one of her own special days when the time came.
He breathed out, breathing out the lingering sadness and thinking only of the smile that would have come to her lips and the touch of her hand on his as they both reached out to the same branch. It was possible, perhaps, to move on. He would hold the beauty and joy of Miramanee in his head and forget the sadness. And for now, he would just enjoy Christmas with his friends.