Not gonna lie – the response (or rather, the lack thereof) to the last chapter was a little discouraging.

Sorry if Chapter 8 ended up not meeting expectations; of course, I suppose those things happen.

At any rate, I said there'd be an epilogue, and I said I'd damn well finish by Valentine's Day – so here you go.


The best of all gifts around a Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in one another.
~ Burton Hillis


"Never thought I'd see the day I'd be sayin' this, Jim – but Spock's done a real nice job decorating the place for Christmas."

Jim does his best to sound offended. "Wait just a minute, buddy – how do you know it wasn't me who decorated our quarters?"

He still likes how it sounds when he says "our quarters" – even though it's been well over six months since he and Spock made it official by moving Spock's stuff into Jim's room. After all, it wasn't as though they hadn't been spending every night together for months already by that time – and it wasn't as though they'd been fooling anybody, anyway.

McCoy catches the little satisfied smile on Jim's face – it's great to see the kid so happy, even if it is because of the damn hobgoblin.

"I know it wasn't you, Captain," he says with undue emphasis on that last word – and an affectionate smile that entirely defeats his sarcastic tone – "because I've seen how you decorate for the holiday. As you'll recall, I've been victimized by your décor on more than one occasion."

He shakes his head, thinking back on some of Jim's more memorable efforts. "So I'm in a position to know that once you're done with a room, it looks as though it's been decorated by a particularly festive Orion hooker who's been taking hallucinogenic mushrooms."

"That mental image, Doctor, provides a fascinating visual." Spock has just come back into the room, with what looks to be more holiday decorations draped over one arm. "I am, however, gratified that you approve of my attempt to make our quarters more festive to prepare for the upcoming Christmas holiday."

Now, McCoy gets what Jim has always called the "Eyebrow of Death," though there is an undertone to Spock's voice that is becoming increasingly familiar – the one that sounds like Spock is actually teasing him.

"As I am certain that you already know, Dr. McCoy, your approval is always of utmost importance to me."

Without meaning to, McCoy hears himself breaking into laughter – and Jim, of course, is joining right in. Because as he's discovered over the past months, damned if Jim's not right; the green-blooded bastard really does have a sense of humor.

It figures, of course, that Spock's jokes are usually at the doctor's own expense – but what the hell. It's almost Christmas, and he can let this one slide.

Especially since even if he is whipping a little shit on Spock for fixing the place up for Christmas, it's plain that the only reason that Spock would have for doing Christmas decorations at all – much less in his own private quarters – would be because he loves Jim.

And anybody who loves Jim can't be all bad.

McCoy spots a new photograph in a frame on Jim's desk, and laughs again. "I'd say this is taking the 'Starfleet's Youngest Captain' bit a little too far, wouldn't you?"

"Hey – maybe it's not 'James T. Kirk,' but it's a James Kirk in the captain's chair all the same – and that's gotta count for something." Jim smiles fondly at the photo, taken just a couple of weeks previously, of his 2-year-old nephew Jamie, who's dressed in an impossibly tiny replica of the Command gold uniform and perched delightedly in Jim's chair on the bridge of the Enterprise. The picture freezes a lovely moment; it's almost as though you can hear the little boy's giggle.

It had been a combination of planning and luck that had put the Enterprise on a course that could reasonably involve a stop at the Cestus IV colony. Jim had managed to finagle an assignment that would normally have gone to a supply ship, and brought provisions to the colony where – as luck would have it – the captain's older brother lived with his family.

Granted, the visit with Sam and his new family hadn't been a lengthy one – and Jim would have been lying if he said it wasn't pretty damn awkward, because there were some pretty seriously uncomfortable moments where neither he nor Sam had any idea of what the hell to say to one another. When it comes down to it, Jim and Sam still have baggage, both individually and together; and there's a long distance to bridge between them in more ways than one before they have anything approaching the relationship they'd had as kids.

But even if it wasn't anybody's idea of a touchingly emotional reunion between the long-separated brothers... well, hell. It was a start. Moreover, Uncle Jim was now the undisputed hero of two completely awestruck little boys; after all, not everybody gets to visit their uncle for an afternoon on his very own starship.

Pete and Jamie had been thrilled to death with their replicas of Uncle Jim's gold captain's shirt – and when Uncle Bones gave them their own Science blues as well, then that had been just about the coolest thing ever.

Jim picks up the photo, observing it more closely. "Aurelan wrote the other day – said she can't get the boys to take the damn Starfleet shirts off long enough to even wash them."

"Yeah, that's kids for you – I remember when Jo-Jo went through her 'Tara the Tribble' phase, and that's all she'd wear. She looked like a damn furball; it was embarrassing to let her leave the house. That shit's cute at first, then it gets obnoxious as hell."

Jim puts the picture down, crossing the room to help Spock with a string of lights he's putting around the small tree in the corner. In the year since their last Christmas together, Sulu had made a point of getting hold of a dwarf fir for this very purpose – and Spock had made sure that the lights they would use were specifically programmed not to flash.

"Speaking of obnoxious children," Jim says over his shoulder, "Hikaru says that Pavel got the bright idea to make their quarters look like mine did last year. Probably a good thing I have that katana; I might have to end up defending myself if Sulu wakes up on Christmas morning with tinsel hanging off –"

"You little fuck." Bones cuts him off, fast. "You swore you'd never bring that up again."

"I must admit to having no desire to hear how Dr. McCoy may or may not have been decorated for the holidays when the two of you were roommates at the Academy, Jim – though you do seem singularly determined to mention it on every possible occasion."

It's a testament to how much time these three have spent together – and to the unlikely friendship that has developed between Spock and McCoy – that the doctor can tell that Spock is in fact smiling right now, even though his facial expression hasn't changed.

"Moreover, Jim, I assure you that you will not need to defend yourself against Lt. Sulu, regardless of where Ensign Chekov may or may not apply tinsel."

Although Spock maintains the easy conversational tone that is intended to sound as though he is still teasing, it's clear to Bones and Jim that he means it; anybody who wants to mess with Jim is going to have to go through Spock – and that's just simply not going to happen.

Bones has lost track of the number of beings who've learned that lesson the hard way – though he has no doubt that Spock has an itemized list of them in his mind, organized by species, date, size and motive.

"Sulu said they'd make it by here for cocoa and cookies tonight at about 2100 hours – Scotty, too, though I'm guessing he's gonna bring something stronger than cocoa." Jim tries to lift one eyebrow in Bones' direction, much to the unspoken amusement of his partner. "And I'm not letting you anywhere near the damn cocoa this time, buddy – not after that little stunt you pulled last year."

"You will be joining us this evening as well, Leonard?"

Sometimes Spock slips and forgets to be snarky; McCoy doesn't mention it, mostly because he'd never admit that he actually likes it. Jim notices, though, and feels a rush of warmth in his chest toward these two dearest people in his life; he knows that they've become such good friends only because their love for him motivated them to get past their differences.

"Of course I'll be here – you don't think the damn stockings are gonna fill themselves, do you?"

"What? You're saying it's not Santa?" Jim tries to look stricken – then ducks, laughing, to avoid the pillow that Bones grabs from the sofa and throws at his head.

"Anyway, Bones, get here whenever you want – we'll be here pretty much all evening." Jim looks up, just a little too casually. "You won't be coming by yourself, will you?"

"Jim." Spock sounds just a little reproving. "You agreed that you were not going to continue to harass Leonard about the state of his social or romantic life at this time."

McCoy looks over at Spock with a mix of surprise and gratitude plain on his face. "Thank you, Spock. It's nice to know that somebody still thinks I'm entitled to a little bit of privacy." He tries to glower at Jim, but it's clear that his heart's not in it. "And if you must know, no – I won't be coming by myself. We're going to get together for dinner first, and then we'll swing by here."

The "we" in question is Leonard and Nyota, whose friendship began last year at Christmas and has continued to grow into something that is probably much more than friendship. However, the only human on the ship who's more private than Bones is Nyota herself – so it's like pulling teeth for Jim to get any scoop about what's going on between the two of them, best friend or not.

Not that this keeps him from trying – at every possible occasion.

"Well, I've had about all the holiday cheer I can handle for one morning; if neither of you are up for joining me for breakfast, then I'm going to go grab a bite and then head down to Sickbay to terrorize M'Benga for a while."

"Bones," Jim says with a tinge of exasperation, "you know those funny things called days off? Usually, those mean you don't go into work. Think you could try that, just once, maybe?"

"Not a snowball's chance in Hell, Jimmy-Boy – you know that as well as I do, because you're every damn bit as bad as I am." McCoy ruffles Jim's hair affectionately. "But I'll make you a deal – I'll stay out of Sickbay today if you stay off the bridge."

He watches as Jim ponders this compromise – because Bones is right, and Jim can't stay away from his work even on the days when he's supposedly off-duty. They're literally out in the middle of nowhere, there's not a damn thing going on, and the eminently capable Lt. Arex has got his hands – all three of them – on the controls today. But still…

"All right. Deal. I'll stay off the bridge. But I'm calling down to Chapel as soon as you leave this room, and if they can even hear your footsteps in the corridor, they'll be calling me – you hear?"

"Yes, sir, Captain, sir." McCoy rolls his eyes; sometimes it sucks when your best friend is also your commanding officer. Of course, it's a pretty even balance of power, since they both know that he can and will vaccinate Jim nine ways from Sunday if Jim crosses him.

"See you two later." With that, he's out the door.

Throughout McCoy's visit, Spock has continued to work quietly throughout the room – hanging a wreath on the wall, placing ornaments on the little tree, making room for the presents that will be opened in the morning. The silence when McCoy leaves is by no means uncomfortable, and Jim indulges himself in one of his favorite activities – simply watching Spock. Fortunately for them both, Spock does not mind being observed by Jim; they don't really talk about it, but if he had his guess, Jim thinks he might actually kind of like it.

"This sure is different from where we were at this point last year." He knows that Spock is going to turn around any second now and give him the "way to be obvious" eyebrow – but as this Christmas has approached, Jim has found that last year's celebration and the events leading up to it have been on his mind a lot.

To Jim's surprise, the eyebrow is not forthcoming. "Last Christmas has been in my thoughts frequently as well as we have gotten ready for this year's holiday gathering." Spock puts down the garland of artificial greenery he's been arranging and comes to stand by Jim.

"I cannot help noticing, k'diwa, that you have seemed somewhat troubled over these past few days." There is a note of uncertainty in Spock's voice that goes straight to Jim's heart. "Are our preparations… lacking in any way?"

So that's why he's been trying so hard to fix the place up. Jim feels like a complete ass for giving Spock the impression that he's anything but the most wonderful thing in Jim's life.

"God, no, Spock – that is so totally not it. Oh, love – I'm so sorry if I made you feel that way."

Jim looks down at the floor; he doesn't know if Spock is going to understand this or not. "I've been feeling a little badly that I haven't found anything as cool as your lute to get you this year; I've been looking for something really amazing pretty much the whole year, and I guess inspiration just never struck. I mean, it's not that I didn't get you anything, obviously. It's just that…"

He is cut off then as Spock pulls him into a crushing embrace, speaking softly into his ear. "To quote our friend Dr. McCoy, 'For a genius, you sure are stupid.'" He pauses as he feels Jim relax and start to laugh against his shoulder, then pulls away just far enough to place the tenderest of kisses onto Jim's forehead.

"You understand – you must understand – that you gave me the greatest gift I could ever have asked for when you gave me your love, Jim." His arms tighten around his t'hy'la yet again, and his voice is suddenly urgent. "Tell me that you know this."

"Of course I know that, Spock." Jim's voice is muffled against Spock's shirt, but he makes no move to leave the circle of warm, strong Vulcan arms. "Just as you gave me the gift of a lifetime when you agreed to bond with me. I mean, I went from feeling almost totally alone to knowing that I have the love of my life, for the rest of my life."

If their current missions went as planned, they would be able to make a trip to the new Vulcan colony within a few months in order to be officially bonded according to the traditions of Spock's ancestors. Meanwhile, they've already bonded in every other way that's important, which is truly the most amazing thing Jim has ever known. He can only hope that he does a good enough job of letting Spock know how very much this means to him.

"You always do, ashayam." Jim starts slightly, forgetting that when they're this close, it's easy for Spock to pick up his thoughts; having Spock actually inside his head, even just a little bit, is kind of hard to get used to. Awesome, no doubt – but more than a little weird at first.

But now Spock is not meeting Jim's eyes. "Truth be told, I believe I was allowing my own insecurities to get the better of me. Like yourself, I have felt that I have been unable to find a gift that could possibly show you the magnitude of what you mean to me, and this has been somewhat disturbing to me - especially knowing how important the Christmas holiday is to you. I simply wanted to make the holiday as close to perfect for you as possible."

Jim laughs a little at that admission. "You know what I'm going to say to that, right? That there's nothing – nothing – you could give me, nothing I'd want, besides you and your love. You, Spock - you make everything perfect, don't you see? As long as I've got you, I could give a rat's ass what else I do or don't have. Because it just doesn't matter."

He leans back, brushing a soft kiss against Spock's lips. "We're a pair, aren't we? Both of us worrying that we're not doing enough for the other one, and freaking ourselves out for no good reason."

Another, longer kiss. "Remember what I wanted so much last Christmas?"

"I do, Jim. You hoped that we could come together as a group of friends and celebrate a family Christmas. I would have to assume that the reality of last year's celebration easily eclipsed any expectations you might have had for the event."

"You know it did." He sighs contentedly, burying his head back into Spock's shoulder. "I went from feeling as though I had almost nobody to finding out I'd had a family who loved me here on the Enterprise all along – from thinking I'd lost you entirely to finding out I had more of you than I could ever have dreamed of. And I even got back in touch with Sam, which is kind of amazing, if you think about it. I mean, that was one hell of an eventful day."

He feels Spock's nod against his hair. "And now, this year, you have had the chance to actually visit your brother and his family – and we already have our quarters quite thoroughly prepared for our Enterprise family to come and join us tonight and tomorrow for yet another Christmas celebration."

"That we do." He whispers against Spock's lips. "You've done such a great job of getting everything ready that there's nothing left for me to do."

His eyes are suddenly mischievous. "You know what'll happen next, don't you? I'll get bored down here with nothing to do – then I'll end up poking around on the bridge, and Bones will find out and hypo me until I can't see straight."

"This could definitely be a potentially difficult, or even dangerous, situation." Spock pretends to give this a great deal of consideration.

"So? You're my first officer – you're supposed to keep me out of trouble." He looks up through impossibly thick eyelashes, his voice inviting. "Any ideas?"

"Indeed." Spock inclines his head slightly, as he so often does when thinking through a problem. "It occurs to me that we could bake cookies; I believe you mentioned spending the day in such a way with your grandmother as a small child."

Jim looks absolutely exasperated – until he realizes that Spock isn't serious. "Let's leave the snickerdoodles to somebody who knows how to operate those damn ovens, all right? Because I think I have a better idea."

After a year together, Spock has become very familiar with what Jim considers to be a "better idea," but he has never had any cause to complain about Jim's "ideas". He knows he need not ask Jim what this idea might be – he'll share when he wants to, and not a moment sooner.

"You told me a minute ago that my love was the greatest gift you could have ever asked for – yes?" Spock nods; he is fairly sure he knows where this is headed – and that is absolutely fine with him.

"So… what good is a gift if you don't unwrap it?" Jim's throwing himself at Spock shamelessly, and he knows it – but he also knows that Spock loves it, so it's all good.

"You are proposing that I... unwrap you?" The corners of Spock's mouth are twitching, and Jim knows he's fighting a smile.

"I am. Do you have an issue with that request?"

"On the contrary, Jim. There is nothing I would rather do."

Threading his fingers through Jim's thick, silky hair, Spock pulls him close for a long, deep kiss - and for a long time, any kind of coherent conversation is at an end.

When the "family" gathers the next morning to exchange presents, Jim gives Spock a knowing smile whenever anyone mentions unwrapping gifts - and each time, Spock cannot suppress a slight blush. Their friends tactfully choose to ignore them both.

At last, the happiness, the warmth, the sheer love between them all grows too large for the room - too large, even, for Christmas Day itself; it has no choice but to last the whole year long.

Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas.
~Dale Evans

And there, my friends, is a sappy, happy ending to the longest piece I've actually managed to finish. I guess it makes sense in a convoluted way that this story was started and finished on two separate holidays that truly are all about love.

So... thanks so very much for reading. May lots of love and happiness come your way always, regardless of the date on the calendar!

And for those of you who've asked - yes. This means I'm going to start working on an update for "Sestina" now. As in, right now. I promise.