Jim stared at the contact code on his PADD, his heart racing as he contemplated the dilemma that had been weighing him down since he'd found it, finally completing a search he'd begun years before… should he call Sam? The brother he hadn't seen since he was eleven, scared, angry and on the cusp of overall rebellion against their combined foe: the childhood-ousting and downright mean son of a bitch, Frank?
He'd been debating the cliché 'should he' or 'shouldn't he' for days, but during this time, when the bulk of his crew were contacting home and immersing themselves in over-the-top and also a tad bit annoying holiday cheer, he couldn't help but long for a piece of it himself.
Was it really so wrong to want someone out there who cared? A blood relation he could contact once a year to exchange awkward holiday wishes? Would Sam begrudge him this?
It was Christmas; everyone needed some kind of connection at Christmas, no matter how vehemently opposed to that fact if asked out loud, and Christmas hadn't been a solitary affair for Jim in over three years. From the moment he and Bones had bonded irrevocably on the shuttle leading them away from the hell they called their previous lives, they'd taken the holiday and made it their own.
To have that potentially taken away was a blow he didn't want to dissect or dwell on for too long. It was too depressing and he wouldn't give Bones the satisfaction of seeing him mope around the Enterprise like a forlorn puppy. Oh fuck no, if the doctor wanted to break their sort-of tradition, that was his problem and Jim resented the hell out of his friend for turning some of his most cherished Christmas memories bittersweet…
The first year, with neither having anywhere else to go, they had wandered down to the pier. They'd frozen their asses off in the cold San Francisco wind, their noses pink and their breath white, staring transfixed at the remnants of the once-proud Alcatraz standing like a monument to times past amongst the tumble and tremble of white-crested waves. The pier was active and lively, the candy stores decked out for Christmas with old fashioned taffy machines stretching the concoction this way and that in the windows, and the smell of fresh fish permeating the air. They ate sourdough bread bowls, filled with clam chowder for Bones and beef stew for Jim, as shellfish and Jim got along about as well as Klingons and, well, everybody, and spent over an hour ruminating and grumbling about how young and idealistic their classmates had seemed to both of them.
It had been great fun, all around.
The ride home was equally memorable, with the two of them deciding to make a spontaneous stop at the local market to pick up some high calorie, artery clogging (Bones' immortal words, not his) eggnog and the largest bottle of Southern Comfort they could find.
And Christ had that damn bottle done a hell of a lot of comforting, with a little bit of eggnog thrown in for good measure just to top the glass.
"Have a little eggnog with your alcohol, Bones."
"Sure, why not. It's not as if alcohol doesn't have enough of a sugar content already, let's add more."
The headache that predictably sprung the next day marked the first time Bones had attacked Jim with a hypospray; a trend that they followed every year thereafter with the air of almost traditional sentimentality.
The year after it was the busy streets of Chinatown, with paper lanterns blowing with the wind and so many people Jim was thankful he wasn't as claustrophobic as Bones.
"It's way too crowded around here… all these people brushing up against me, packed on the sidewalk like sardines, breathing and exhaling already polluted air in close proximity. This is how diseases are spread!"
"Bones, I've known you for well over a year now, and I can say with utmost certainty that you could do with a little close encounter of the adjacent and proximate kind. Actually, you could do with a lot more than that."
And once they had shoved, pushed, and wedged their way into a local eatery, it was jumbo egg rolls, the kind that made the paper they were wrapped in almost transparent with grease, at the cheapest, dingiest, yet most awesome-tasting dive they could find, topped off later with some more Comfort, straight-up, as by that time they were past the point of needing to rationalize spending the holiday completely plastered.
Not once during that time did either of their families visit, but Bones always got a care package from his mother, and Jim got, well, he got what he'd received every year since he was about seven. A PADD programmed with word and math puzzles from his own mother, a gift that was infinitely more fun, and less profoundly obvious that the woman didn't put any thought into her gift, when combined with a blood-alcohol level well over the legal limit.
"Hey Jim, what's the Vulcan word for 'flood?'"
"I think it's something like 'your ass', or 'abrash'… yeah, that's it, abs-ass."
Which had been fucking hysterical at the time, and had them both laughing in that ironic way that confirmed that yes, they were a bit screwed up and off-kilter, but they heartily embraced it.
"Nice of your mom to provide the entertainment," Bones had announced sardonically.
"Yeah, the woman's all heart," Jim replied with a snort, and that had been that.
Their final year at the Academy it was sub sandwiches and strong coffee, with maybe a tiny bit of Comfort inside, to give it zest. Jim was supposed to be studying for his second go at the Kobayashi Maru and Bones had a couple of shifts lined up in a row at the fleet clinic that evening, so neither could afford to let go entirely, but they did what they could and it had been fun.
"Shouldn't we be singing carols or something normal? 'Oh Cum Like Ol' Faithful' or 'Jingle My Balls' or some shit like that?" Jim recalled asking, just to get a smile, or at the very least, a snort, out of Bones, to draw him out of the misery he had been feeling over missing his baby girl at Christmas.
The doctor didn't disappoint.
"Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" he had asked through his chuckle.
"Not until she comes up with an original gift idea, I don't," Jim had retorted, and the two of them had ended the day as they had the two years previous, with quiet laughter, united, Jim Kirk and Leonard McCoy against the universe.
"I got you something, Jim."
"Wow, Bones, thanks! Best gift ever! How in the world did you find an old paper-bound copy of Dickens' 'Christmas Carol'? It will make an awesome addition to my collection. Here I got something for you, too."
"Thanks, kid, I could always use a new flask."
"I had it engraved, read the inscription."
"'Forget the planet, I want your bones. Forever and always my CMO, Jim'. Only you, Jim, only you."
And if Bones' voice had been a little choked up as he read it, Jim never mentioned it, but the memory never ceased to make him smile.
Jim had been looking forward to repeating their pattern-or rather, their lack of pattern-this year, their first together out in the black, but the doctor had been even more ornery and snappish than usual, even with Jim. A small part of Jim feared that his best friend had discovered his secret and was pushing him away in retaliation… that Jim was in love with the cranky doctor, and had been since somewhere between the bread bowls and the eggrolls.
Jim had always suspected that being in love brought more trouble than it was worth. Hell, he could just point to the wreck his mother had become following his father's death for proof of that theory, but it still felt shitty to have that idea confirmed so assuredly and by the one person who mattered most. He doubted anything could relieve the sting of it, except maybe Bones coming to find him to apologize for being such an ass, but considering the mood he had just left his friend in, that was about as likely as Jim getting anything other than a PADD of math problems for Christmas from his ever-distant maternal influence.
Whatever his reason for channeling the universe's biggest prick, Bones clearly felt justified in it, which meant that any celebratory 'Hooray, we made it through another year despite the best efforts of crazy-ass Romulans' celebration just wasn't in the cards.
And with his budding friendship with Spock still too new for anything close to commiserative bonding, and the rest of the crew immersed in excessive cheer, Jim was left with one outlet for any sort of connection at Christmas… the brother he hadn't seen in well over a decade.
The thought would be outrageously discouraging if he wasn't so busy being stuck somewhere between heartbroken and fucking annoyed at Bones, and so with a bit of defiance, and not a little anger spurring him on, he sat in front of his computer and punched in Sam's code with bated breath.
He didn't need Bones to have a merry fucking Christmas, he'd prove it.
Except that he didn't.
Whatever romantic notion he'd been fostering about warm reunions met with overzealous excitement and a reaffirmation of brotherly bonds was quickly shot to hell at the profound awkwardness seeing Sam again wrought.
"Uh, hi Sam, it's me, Jim. Jim Kirk. Your brother? I found your number and thought I'd call, see how you are… so, how are you?"
For the first few minutes after Jim's initial greeting they could only stare, each cataloguing appearances and demeanor, as if looking for themselves in each other, any tell-tale genetic sign that they had come from the same donors of ninety-two chromosomes between the two of them.
As much as Jim knew, objectively, that he hadn't seen Sam in so many years and he had been a child the last time he had, the sheer daunting realization of what that meant startled him… he did not recognize this man. He did not know him. Didn't know his likes or dislikes, didn't know his philosophy on life and happiness, hell, didn't even know what he did for a living. He had no means of connecting to him at all.
The place Jim had been in at eleven and the place he was in now seemed so far apart they might as well have been different lifetimes. And the image of the older brother he had idolized thoroughly had dulled in his memory to become a vague recollection of hazel eyes, ever defiant with consistent anger; sandy cropped hair, and limbs stuck awkwardly mid-growth between child and man.
For the first time he could remember in who knew how long, he had no idea what to say. Didn't have a clue. And he felt himself fidgeting and squirming in his chair, as if he were itchy and uncomfortable in his own skin.
He found himself wishing desperately that he hadn't called, that rather he had bitten the bullet and asked Bones what it was that had put him in such a foul mood instead of getting his feelings hurt and walking away like a wounded animal. Only Bones could reduce him to the equivalent of a petulant child. If Jim didn't love the guy so much, he'd hate him for it.
The awkward silence he was engaged in now was, by far, the most excruciating part of his day so far. Nothing Bones could say in a fit of temperament could compare to it, which certainly put things in perspective.
What was it about him that sought an end to pain by creating more? Was that an aspect of his personality he could fix? Did he need to? Maybe he needed his pain to prove that he was alive, to spur him onward to find and achieve more satisfying results.
Never give up, no matter what. There was no such thing as a no-win scenario. That was his philosophy and he was sticking with it.
"Jim," the husky, completely unrecognizable voice replied, finally, "you look good."
"Thanks," was all he could reply, for lack of anything more insightful. The "so do you" tacked on in afterthought was equally automatic, for all that he meant it.
Sam, even with tell-tale hardness around his eyes, clearly signifying a harsh life, looked remarkably like the father Jim had never known, both handsome in their own right, both symbols of what could or might have been. Though, in retrospect, Jim wouldn't change his life for all of the non-replicated coffee in the Federation. He was satisfied with where he was, and any means he had taken to get there was just the path he'd needed to take to reach that destination.
Seeing Sam… it was like looking at a specter. 'The Ghost of Christmas Past' he thought with a sardonic smile. He'd have to tell Bones that, later, when he relayed this shattering event back to him and sought the comfort only familiarity and warm affection provided.
And perhaps that was the answer right there, the reason Jim would always want to spend Christmas with Bones, the reason he took pleasure in greasy food and cynical banter and the reason his conversation with Sam failed to live up to any sort of expectation. The definition of Christmas must exist somewhere in the range of cherished and sought familiarity.
"I'm sorry I called you like this, just out of the blue, I don't know what I was thinking, I'll go now," Jim said, willing to put them both out of their misery.
"No Jim, wait," Sam called, his tone surprisingly free of tension considering his earlier silence, "I'm glad you called, really I am. It's just strange for me, that's all. It'll take awhile to get used to. I've been meaning to contact you ever since I heard about the attack on Earth and your hand in saving everybody. Maybe we could talk again sometime, you know, reconnect?"
"I'd like that," Jim responded, smiling widely before giving one final nod and cutting the connection. The only way to exorcise the ghosts of a painful past was to carve out a more desirable future – it was a hard lesson, and he would never forget it.
He would call Sam again sometime.
He wasn't alone with his thoughts for long; Bones would never allow it. For all that the doctor feigned gruffness to great exaggeration, he was actually pretty damn sensitive. It wasn't a secret that Bones hated it when the two of them fought; as much, if not more, than Jim did, himself, and he could always see the remorse in the doctor's face following an argument. Thus he had no qualms basking in the doctor's sole, undivided attention when his friend felt he had to make something up to him.
It was also familiar.
"I come in peace," the doctor said by way of greeting, "I even brought your favorite chicken salad sandwiches and some Comfort. Figured we both could use it."
"And you'd be right," Jim stated, tired and wanting any negativity to just end so they could do their Christmas bonding thing already, but not giving entirely. Bones had to earn it. Never let it be said that Jim Kirk was easy.
Life-jarring moments came and life-jarring moments went, but watching the proud doctor eat crow would never get old.
"Jim, sometimes my mouth gets away from me. You know that. Hell, you know that better than anybody. I didn't mean what I said, I was just frustrated with Jocelyn interrupting my already limited conversation with Joanna and you were the first target to come along. You're the last person in the universe I'd want to hurt, Jim. You know that, right?"
So there it was, not only crow eating but an opening if Jim had ever heard one, and one that his current mood, filled with profound discovery and resolution, wouldn't allow him to pass up. One truth deserved another. It wasn't even a matter of courage; it was a matter of simply being tired of hiding it, tired of reining it in and monitoring his reactions.
"Yeah, I know it. And I also know you didn't mean it. Maybe I shouldn't have taken it so much to heart the way I did, but the thing is… the thing is that I think I'm in love with you. So yes, it fucking hurts when you're a jackass, but well, I love you anyway, which doesn't excuse the behavior, by the way, so don't think you're off the hook."
Perhaps he should have continued to keep that bottled inside, leaving their relationship at the status quo. And perhaps he was slightly masochistic for risking his friendship with the only man he could currently consider family. But he'd had a bad day filled with epiphanies and self-realizations, damnit, and people who've just had epiphanies just aren't in the mood to lie, least of all to themselves.
What he was in the mood for, however briefly it might last, was to see the universe just as it was. No subterfuge, no denial, no pretense, no blaming his past and everyone else for his problems. And definitely no pretending that he didn't need Bones, not just for Christmas, but for everyday thereafter. Life happened, some of it hurtful, some of it grand, but he alone chose what he took from it and how he reacted. In this universe Jim Kirk was in love with Leonard McCoy. That was just the way it was. He wouldn't change it, even if Bones asked it of him.
He didn't need three ghosts to tell him this shit; one had been more than enough.
"Don't really care whether you find that out anymore," Jim continued, not looking up to meet his friend's gaze, but not ashamed, either. "I just think it's enough that I do, you know? That I'm capable of it. Shows I'm not broken, after all. If Nero were still alive he could kiss my ass."
He didn't know how he was expecting Bones to react, but figured the response would teeter somewhere between open denial and thinly veiled embarrassment. Instead he got a slow chuckle, amused and slightly self-deprecating. He didn't even have time to get thoroughly indignant or angry at Bones laughing, laughing of all the fucking nerve, at him before a strong, gentle set of fingers settled beneath his chin and brought his gaze up to meet a pair of familiar, shining eyes.
"I've been trying to work up the nerve to tell you the same thing since the goddamned pier, but of the two of us, you always did have more than enough courage to spare."
The kiss that followed that proclamation was just as ardent, hard, and demanding as Jim liked them, and the taste of Bones on his tongue was the most exciting Christmas experience he'd had to date. It felt of San Francisco wind and paperback books given with tremendous thought and care and smelt like Southern Comfort mixed with a tiny dollop of fresh eggnog.
Soon enough, their kissing each other as if they wanted to swallow each other whole - as if they couldn't press their bodies against each other hard enough, as if the need to breathe was an annoying trait of mankind that needed to be overcome in that very instant - would also be familiar in that cherished, sought way. Jim would see to it personally.
Happy holidays fellow Star Trek fans! I hope the season brings to you a great abundance of laughter, love and happiness!