Written for the KSAdvent calendar

"Feel like I was meant for something better my..." Jim trailed off and barely caught his head from falling forward and face-planting onto the counter he was supposed to be tending.

For the past hour, preventing face-plants had been a common occurrence, because his body was being obstinate and refused to cooperate with his will to keep it awake. His eyelids were dropping, his neck refused to keep his head upright, even his vision was getting blurred around the edges. It was absolute mutiny. Whatever happened to mind over matter?

A quick glance at the clock revealed that he had two hours and three minutes of his shift left to go.

Jim smiled sardonically while trying to work up the energy to stand, instead of leaning over the bar, chin in hand — a position that made it far too easy to nod off, apparently. Tuition was due soon, so sleep deprivation was a necessary evil. In theory.

He had told Pike he would do the Academy's four year program in three and he damn well would... Still, it was possible that Pike had a point and taking 21 credits when full time was considered 15 was a tad bit excessive. Just a mite, mind.

Naturally, Pike was only marginally right – and only on nights when the bottom tier of Maslows's hierarchy of needs weren't being met. Otherwise Jim's idea was pure genius.

The faster he got through the Academy, the faster he got out of it. And then — the stars. See things, find things, and learn things that couldn't be taught on a PADD.

Jim turned to the clock once more. Only two minutes had passed? The thing had to be broken.

Yeah, okay, so tonight was definitely one of those not genius nights. A customer or two would be nice. Jim would even settle for his boss coming in to read him the riot act for making the coffee too strong again, or for giving out too many freebies, because his boss was an evil, bitter little man, who probably hadn't been laid anytime in the last century and enjoyed taking his sexual frustration out on Jim.

God, Jim couldn't wait to quit this place, already had his parting monologue all planned out.

'Off to bigger and better things now. So you can take your abysmal pay, your sour demeanor, your propensity to look down your nose at me, and shove it up your ass. I'd like to say it's been a pleasure, but I'd be lying and then my nose would grow and then I'd never become a real boy. So instead I'll just say, don't comm me, I'll comm you.'

But until then… another glance at his archnemesis. No progress there. Jim sighed, grabbing a rag and washing the counter. Just a couple of hours, that was all, and then maybe tonight he could manage to pull off four or five hours of sleep before his 0700 class on Federation History.

For a brief second, he contemplated calling his mom and asking her for the money to pay for the next semester at the Academy. It would be so nice to concentrate solely on classes for once, like those lucky students who could afford it; to only worry about his studies; to put some time into his strategy for the Kobayashi Maru simulation Jim would be taking within the next few months.

But just as quickly as the idea came, Jim buried it way, way, way down.

Those were just crazy thoughts. He hadn't taken a cent from his mother since leaving her house at 16, high school diploma in hand, and a 'see you, wouldn't want to be you' on his lips. Not that she'd noticed, or even been on-planet at the time. Clearly, the whole sleep deprivation thing was starting to affect his sanity.

Or maybe it was the holidays. All that nauseating good cheer in the air was infecting his mind through some kind of freaky Christmas osmosis.

Well, bah humbug to that. His biggest plans for the break from classes was working full shifts instead of half to pay for the new PADD he needed for the winter semester, and catching up on sleep. Not the slaughter of innocent pine trees for decorative purposes, nor the consumption of way too many calories through heavily laced eggnog, and especially not dysfunctional family gatherings, factored into it.

Depressingly, his plans didn't really seem to compare with what his peers had planned, with their ski trips and their presents and their... consumption of far too many calories through heavily laced eggnog. Gluttons. But if wishes were horses he'd have his own fucking farm full of them back in Iowa. Wishing didn't get a man anywhere. Doing was more the ticket.

He could deal with the pressure, he could deal with the stress. He had made it this far. Just one and a half years left at the Academy to go and he'd be home free. No ghosts of families past to stand in his way.

As if in aid of his defiance, he looked back at the antiquated coffee machine that he'd manned for the past three hours. Quaint coffee shops using old fashioned machinery were considered a bit of a novelty this day and age, as vintage things were somewhat of a trend among the educated elite. That, and replicated coffee tasted like a cross between planting soil, and sour milk. Jim could definitely see the draw of doing it the tried and true way.

He had sought out this job in particular for tactical reasons. It came with the added benefit of free caffeine, all that he could drink. Sometimes it was his only means of making it through the day.

In fact, he'd already had five cups that day. He eyed the machine and wondered if another cup would have the detrimental effect of keeping him awake during the four hours of much needed sleep, or simply carry him through the remaining almost two hours he had left on his shift as intended.

Just as he thought 'fuck it' and reached for a cup with one hand and for a half full pot with another, he heard the door open behind him and a gruff voice ring out, "Don't even think about it."

Even though he was one step away from becoming a zombie, and frustrated, and a little depressed - 'Have a Holly Jolly Christmas' set on replay in the shop did that to a person - he couldn't help a genuine smile from spreading across his face in greeting to one of the few bright spots the Academy had introduced him to thus far.

"You can't control how I think, Bones. That's for me to do and for you to be annoyed by," he said, turning to face his best friend who had hopped on a stool, placed a small bakery box on the counter, and shoved it in Jim's general direction. Jim only dimly heard the front door open a second time, figuring it was someone coming in to use the bathroom.

Actual customers who came in for coffee this late at night were like Santa Claus — non-existent.

"Someone brought muffins into the clinic; thought this might be a good opportunity to put some meat on your bones, kid. You look like you skip more meals than you eat, and contrary to popular belief you cannot subsist on coffee alone," he said, nodding to the box, and then placed both hands palm down on the counter — a sure fire sign that Jim was about to be lectured, McCoy-style.

He didn't even bother to hide his grin at the thought of what was coming. Bones liked to believe that everyone considered him hostile and cankerous, but, in all actuality, he could out-mother-hen the little old lady who lived in a shoe.

It was a nuance Jim found kind of… endearing, not that he'd let Bones know that, ever. Manly pride and all that.

"You need to stop drinking so much caffeine, Jim-boy. It's a stimulant. Highly addictive. You know you're going to have the headache from hell once you quit this relic to times past. Coming down from the stuff won't be easy."

It was an old argument, but a welcome distraction. It was hard to fall asleep on the job with a nagging best friend, one who was awfully fond of the sound of his own voice, in one's ear.

"Four classes tomorrow alone, Bones, and an upcoming test on warpcore schematics. If coffee be the fruit of love, drink on. Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die," Jim quoted, complete with hand flourish, grinning as he caught sight of Bones rolling his eyes.

"Good God, man, Shakespeare must be turning over in his grave. It's too late at night for embellishing the written words of long dead playwrights. Hell, it's too late for coherent conversation," Bones groused, shaking his head. "Listen, I have classes tomorrow, too. I just wanted to make sure you ate something. And to let you know that I need you in for a blood test tomorrow, to see if your blood has been replaced entirely with coffee yet."

Well in Whoville they say - that the Jim's small heart grew three sizes that day… as the heart of known Grinches were purported to do.

It made his heart squeeze that Bones looked after him. So maybe he didn't have a family, not really, but he had a Bones. And Bones did so love to parent. And Jim did so love to let him. Especially when it came hand in hand with highly amusing sardonic wit.

It worked for them.

"Oh, ha ha," Jim retorted, though his smile bellied his sarcasm. "Thanks for the muffin, Bones. You're the best. Don't let your patients, or the nurses, or your fellow doctors, or any of your instructors, or the other students in your classes, or the lady at the check-out counter at the grocery store, or the Academy grounds keep, or that guy we ran into at the park last Tuesday, or anyone who meets you, really, tell you otherwise."

Bones snorted, shaking his head as if wondering how he'd ever been unfortunate enough to be saddled with one so corny, but Jim knew he was really trying to hide the grin he was sporting.

"Yeah, yeah." Bones waved him off, most likely only letting Jim get away with the last tease this time, because he was too tired to come up with a witty retort himself. This was a rarity for them, and Jim didn't care how evil it made him to bask in the hard-earned glory of having The Last Say.

Unfortunately, that glory was short-lived.

As Bones turned to leave, he bumped into a dark-haired stranger, who had been standing behind him. Someone who had to have been standing there awhile without either Jim or Bones noticing. Shit!

"Pardon me," Bones said, turning briefly to give Jim a 'have fun with this one' look. Once Bones had moved out of the way and headed out the door, Jim got a clear view of the customer and felt his heart sink.

Great. Not only had he essentially been ignoring a customer the entire time Bones had been there, but he knew exactly who that customer was, and it wasn't someone he'd be inclined to piss off through appallingly neglectful customer service.

There was only one Vulcan in all of Starfleet.

Said Vulcan was also a professor and the talk of the Academy. Jim had never had a class with him, himself, testing out of basic linguistics (he was fluent in both Vulcan and Andorian, and so-so at Klingon) and not needing more than that for the command track, but he was the treasurer of the linguistics club. He'd heard the name Spock mentioned once or twice (or enough times that Jim had started to wonder why they didn't just replace the Zefram Cochrane statue out in front of the Academy grounds with a Spock one). Of course he had.

Who hadn't?

The guy was reported to be a stickler for the rules, a real hard ass. The kind of instructor Jim purposely tried to avoid, if there were other options available. He didn't tend to get on well with the by-the-book types, opting instead for instructors reported to allow a little creative interpretation into their curriculum.

He'd give this to Professor Spock's students, however, as he looked his customer up and down, the Vulcan was easy on the eyes. It explained why cadets of all origins flocked to his courses. And maybe it even made up for the whole bug-up-the-butt thing.

As Jim's luck would have it, it didn't look like he had made a great first impression. And this was a man of considerable influence.

How ever-so-wonderfully fantastic.

It would be nice if one of these days, just once, the universe gave him a fucking break.

Though why the Vulcan had just stood there while he and Bones had had their conversation Jim didn't know. He could have easily spoken up.

But as Jim looked to Spock's face and opened his mouth, prepared to kiss butt like the best of them in order to save face, he caught something in those dark eyes that flashed briefly — something like intrigue? Amusement? Maybe a little of both? Almost as if Jim and Bones' play-by-play had garnered his interest?

Jim couldn't quite decipher it, and as quickly the look had come, it had gone, leaving Jim to wonder if a common side effect of too much caffeine inhalation was hallucinations. He would… not ask Bones about it tomorrow. That would earn him another lecture. He'd just hack the Academy's medical database instead.

"Ah, sorry about that," Jim muttered, hiding his embarrassment behind a smile. "Can I get you anything?"

The look that Spock gave him said wordlessly: 'Oh look who finally noticed I was here. Done socializing on the job, are we?' And although Jim couldn't fault him for that — and probably would have felt the same way had he been in Spock's shoes — he'd had a hard day, he was exhausted beyond the telling of it, and entitled people tended to piss him off on a good day.

This was nowhere near a good day.

Bones' muffin had been the only bright spot. Jim wasn't in the mood to tolerate attitude, infamous professor or not.

"We don't really have a lot to offer. Coffee or green tea — these are your options," Jim blurted out, hoping to get the exchange over with quickly and not bothering to hide the annoyance in his tone. 'Say one word about speaking with my manager, buddy…'

If Jim had trouble reading Spock's expression just seconds before, he definitely didn't now. The Vulcan looked amused, eyes flashing with all-too-brief merriment. Huh. Jim didn't think Vulcans did amusement.

But hell, amusement was definitely preferable to pissed. He'd take it.

Jim felt himself relax a bit, took a deep breath, calmed his mind, and put his smile back firmly in place.

"So, coffee or tea?"

Rather than making a selection, the professor continued to observe him curiously, dark eyes as unnerving as they were beautiful. But when Spock's assessment lasted a second or two beyond what was comfortable, it became worrisome.

"You are Cadet Kirk, are you not? Cadet James Kirk?"

Finally, he spoke. And oh, what a voice. Jim would love to dwell on the exotic richness of it, if he wasn't too preoccupied with bracing himself for the inevitable — that thing that always came when someone he hadn't previously met recognized his surname…

'Ah yes, George Kirk's son. Amazing man, your father. Although I couldn't be more than a few years older than you, by the looks of things, and never met the man personally, we Vulcans think he was extremely logical, which is the highest praise there is to give. I heard rumors that rainbows shined out of his ass. So, you must be a disappointment.'

Though that last part was usually implied heavily instead of voiced outright.

Surprisingly, that wasn't what came out. Instead Spock looked at him, and said in that cool, detached, logical voice, "I've heard you spoken of amongst my students. More specifically, my TA, Cadet Uhura."

And Jim felt his heart sink to his toes. Just great. The person whose first impression came from the lowest period of his life. It was worse than being compared to his father, Saint George, the chivalrous.

This day just kept getting better. Maybe he'd be hit by a hover car on his way home, just to truly make it one for the books.

"Look, normally I don't care what people think of me, because at the end of the day people think what they want, and usually only half of it is based in fact. But Uhura and I had a very rocky start. She didn't exactly catch me at my best, so whatever she told you—"

As he was saying it, he wondered why he bothered. Usually his old standby whenever someone confronted him with a rumor was: 'Think what you want, you will anyway. Nothing I can do or say will stop you.' And if he mentally added a 'stick and stones may break my bones' to that, no one had to know.

But for whatever reason, he very much cared what Spock thought. Maybe it was because Spock represented everything Jim wanted. Sterling reputation, based on competence and intelligence. The rank of Commander (though he'd only settle for that rank short term on his way to Captain), a posting on the still-under-construction Enterprise under Captain Pike, (who was probably one of the few people on any planet Jim both admired and respected), and this type of cool elegance on top of it all, like nothing could touch him.

Spock was someone Jim could both admire and respect, too, if given half the chance.

"She told me," Spock said succinctly, as seemed to be his wont, "that you were highly intelligent, if, and I quote, a little rough around the edges."

"Oh." Jim wasn't really sure how to respond to that, feeling more than a little bit shell shocked. "Tell her thanks for the endorsement… I think. And if she wants a free cup of coffee or something for her and her friends, let her know I can hook her up."

It was rare that he was startled, especially so thoroughly. This entire exchange was starting to make him… unsettled.

"Speaking of coffee, did you want something?" Jim said, though he really meant, 'This can't feasibly get more awkward now, can it? Let's find something safe to talk about, say, I don't know, the reason you're here!'

Spock didn't seem inclined to respond to either prod, voiced or otherwise.

"And you work at this establishment? Captain Pike has informed that you are on an impacted curriculum, as was I when I attended the Academy as a cadet. So far, we are the only two. Since the comparison was made, however offhandedly, I admit I've taken a keen interest in your performance. It is most impressive. Why are you—?"

And at that, Jim had had it. He was far too exhausted for this type of conversation, coupled with the fact that he barely knew Spock, yet Spock had the power to make things difficult for him. To top it all off, Jim was embarrassed to be caught serving coffee to the son of a diplomat and the unequivocal Academy darling.

The breaking point Bones always predicted Jim would eventually hit? He'd passed it. Probably had ages ago without realizing it.

"Look. Like you've heard about me, I've heard about you, too," Jim said, impassioned yet not quite able to meet Spock's eyes and hating himself for it. "You're the son of the Ambassador of Vulcan, and as such, I'm guessing, coming up with tuition fees wasn't really an issue for you. Not all of us are so lucky. This might seem strange to you — I'm not quite sure how Vulcan families work — but I can't rely on mine as an option for help. I'm sort of on my own here."

As he said that, Jim was certain he saw something akin to understanding flash through Spock's eyes. But he didn't take too long to ponder it, he had a point to get across. Most urgently.

"I need to work to pay for my tuition — this is why I'm here. But I promise you, it will not affect my performance. At all. It hasn't yet and I'm halfway through it. Now, coffee or tea?"

It wasn't intentional, but the way he asked coffee or tea, the sheer urgency in his voice, made it come out as if it were a life or death inquiry, as though the fate of the universe depended on Spock's answer to this one question.

Just as easily as he was riled, he felt the bolster drain out of him, and his shoulders droop as he released an unfiltered chuckle. Then another, shaking his head to ward off whatever demons had possessed him just now.

When he looked up the brown eyes were still assessing him, yet strangely, they hadn't lost their understanding. Jim didn't take the time to ponder that too closely, not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth. It was a miracle Spock didn't consider him a lunatic.

Jim would have, had he met himself like this.

"I'm sorry for getting a little… intense just now. I'm a little tired. I, uh, appreciate your interest in my career."

Spock nodded in response, raising his hand, palm up, to rest in front of Jim.

"Do you have your PADD on you?" he asked. And as Jim nodded his affirmation, moving to go behind the counter to retrieve it and lay it across Spock's upturned palm, he wondered if maybe Spock was the lunatic.

Spock entered something on his PADD and returned it to Jim, expression no longer decipherable.

"I entered my private comm number into your contacts. Should you ever need anything — assistance with a schedule-related matter, or an active listener — please do not hesitate to contact me."

And Jim had thought that the beautiful Uhura ringing his endorsements, in her own way, had him flummoxed. It had nothing on this.

"Why?" he asked, the syllable torn from his throat. He honestly didn't know what else to say.

"Because, Cadet Kirk, I believe I see what Captain Pike had the foresight to deduce the day he recruited you. I think you are going to make an exemplary officer."

Spock was only person, save Pike, to ever say that to Jim. It did funny things to his body, like make his pulse race, and his heart feel lighter. People having faith in him was a rarity, he could count the number of those who did on one hand.

Although, when Pike had said it, Jim hadn't wanted to reach out and kiss him, the way he did Spock just then.

He wondered if he was forever destined to covet considerably high aspirations.

Though he'd never admit it to the prick who called himself his boss, the old man who spoke in grunts and had a chip on his shoulder the size of the Pacific Ocean, Jim actually liked his second job.

It contained books. Real, paper and print, leather bound books.

A bit of a rarity in this day and age, and one of Jim's carefully hidden passions.

Unearned reputation as a party animal or no (and honestly, how did people think he passed his classes if he spent as much time gallivanting across dorm rooms as he was reported to do? Though, admittedly, he did try to feed his reputation. He found out a long time ago it paid to have people underestimate him.), Jim would rather be reading. And he had a collection of books at home stacked up invitingly, just waiting to be devoured. A treat he planned to indulge in once he'd graduated.

But maybe, because he'd earned it, he'd read one on Christmas Day.

There was nothing that compared to holding a book in his hands. No novel downloaded to his PADD could compare to it. There was this smell, this intimacy in turning pages; in feeling smooth, cool paper beneath his fingertips; in knowing exactly what page to turn to for a favored passage from a well read story. It was a bit like sex in a way, all touch and feel and the reaching emotional heights.

Jim had once spent an entire month surviving on bologna and cheap bread just to afford Jack London's "Call of the Wild," and currently had his eyes on a collection of Edgar Allan Poe's shorts.

Working in the antique shop gave his hobby free reign. And it wasn't just the books, but the antique weapons as well. One day, when he didn't have to scrimp every credit to his name, he'd line his walls with them. There was something to the craftsmanship of things made by hand, something Jim found intricately admirable.

But until that fated day, he'd fettered the best books away, hiding them behind stacks and boxes, so they wouldn't be found, until payday rolled around and he was able to buy them himself. And although the cheap bastard he called boss refused to give him an employee discount Jim didn't really care… much. These treasures were priceless.

Was hiding the books away from the prying eyes of buying customers devious? Undoubtedly. Perhaps a little skeevy? No question. But all was fair in love and literature. This job had tactical reasons as well. If Jim was meant to run himself into the ground, at least he'd enjoy the rite of acquisition along the way.

He was unloading a new box of acquired goods - estate sales were what heaven was made of, if Jim were to believe in such a place - when it happened.

He fell in love at first sight.

The cover was a green cloth, laid carefully over hardboard underneath, the edges of the pages yellowed with time. In the center of the cover there was a printed copy of a hand-drawn image: an elderly man walking side by side with a small boy on crutches.

Jim felt his heart dance, his pulse quicken, his breath hitch in his throat. Slowly, reverently he turned the book sideways, to glance at the binding, and there, in faded gold leaf print, were magical words…

'A Christmas Carol' Charles Dickens.

Jim glanced surreptitiously to the right, then to the left, made certain there were no witnesses, then stood to find the collection of horribly rusted Pikeman armor that had been in the store as long as Jim had worked there. Ingenious hiding location, really, no one ever paid the armor a passing glance.

It was perfect.

On his way there, he couldn't help but coo at his love, entirely smitten, openly petting her stiff form.

"Hi darling. Name's Jim. You want to come home with me, don't you? Oh yes, you do. I know, I know, I can't stand to be parted either, but I do have a little holiday bonus coming my way and then we can be together. Forever. It's a promise."

The rest of his shift passed in a blur of excitement, and it took all his willpower not to keep glancing in the direction of his hiding spot, just to ensure that the newly acquired love of his life remained undisturbed.

Despite the upcoming holiday, the store had been almost completely dead, and Jim reached a point where he thought it safe enough that maybe he could establish visitation rights with the-book-that-shall-be-his. He had already pivoted his chair in the direction of the armor to stand up and do just that, when the bell on the door signaled that a customer had entered the store.

Quickly turning back around Jim felt his breath catch for the second time that day. Standing before him, and looking as distinguished and assured as ever, was perhaps one of the few people in existence that could mute the siren call of Dickens.

"Hello, Commander Spock."

Jim had yet to take Spock up on his offer of assistance. Accepting help was difficult for him on a good day, and something Jim knew he needed to work on, considering his track. People in command had to learn to delegate, to utilize all resources at their disposal. Jim knew this. But it was just one of the many things in life that fell under the category 'easier said than done.' Nevertheless, he thought of Spock often, replaying their encounter in his mind over and over, still ridiculously touched by it. Seeing him now, in the flesh, was just as intoxicating as the discovery of a priceless book had been.

Spock raised an eyebrow at the sight of Jim, brown eyes seemingly pleased, and perhaps a little… concerned? It could be that Jim was reading into it. Vulcans were reported to be notoriously inexpressive, but Jim found that he could read Spock rather easily. If eyes were the window into the soul, then Spock's eyes were a freshly cleaned pane of glass, with no curtains drawn to mar the view.

"Coffee or tea?" Jim asked, because he couldn't help himself, and felt his heart jump at the amusement that flashed across Spock's face before he could suppress it.

"Gift," Spock replied simply, and Jim felt his attraction intensify at what Spock didn't say just then. As in "Here, too? On the honor of Surak (or whatever idioms Vulcans used - Jim was ad libbing it here) when do you sleep or study? like he knew the Vulcan wanted to. Spock's restraint and his refusal to cast judgment made Jim feel warm.

"Gifts we can do," Jim replied with an easy smile. "Give me something to work with here? Female? Male? Other? Young at heart? Chronologically challenged?"

Jim got the feeling that if Vulcans snorted, Spock would have. Instead he eyed Jim steadily, a new light dancing in his gaze. It made Jim's body heat up even more.

"The gift is intended for my mother," Spock said softly, reverently, "as a token for the upcoming Terran holiday."

Jim knew, just by Spock's tone, that this wasn't to be an ordinary gift.

"I didn't realize that Vulcans celebrated Christmas," Jim said, kicking himself for it, but oh-too-curious despite himself.

It was kind of ironic that even people from other planets had better holiday plans than he did.

"Vulcans do not. Humans do; my mother is human," Spock explained, and although it was obvious to Jim that Spock was trying desperately to squelch it, there was defiance in that tone, as if he dared Jim to react a certain way.

Spock might as well be flinching, Vulcan style.

It broke Jim's heart a bit. He didn't want to know the history that caused this type of reaction in Spock, it'd probably piss him off. And no one, not even Jim, wanted to be pissed off for the holiday.

"Excellent," Jim replied, returning Spock's earlier favor and not delving deeper into the issue. Spock's mother could be Romulan for all Jim cared, it didn't matter. Whoever she was, she'd raised quite the son. "We have the perfect type of gifts for human mothers."

He purposely kept his tone light. And if the light that dawned in Spock's eyes was any indication, he seemed to appreciate it.

"Describe her for me — what is she like?" Jim asked after a pause that strangely didn't seem as uncomfortable as it would have in any other situation, with any other person, save maybe Bones or Pike.

"She is a teacher. Naturally, given her profession, highly intelligent. She loves the accumulation of knowledge. She enjoys reading as a leisurely pursuit."

It was interesting to Jim that while Vulcans would never be accused of waxing poetic by the public at large, this one seemed to be doing it quite well.

It reaffirmed Jim's idea that the gift in question had to be really special.

"Sounds like a woman after my own heart," Jim replied softly. With his spirit sinking a little, he realized exactly what the perfect gift would be, and, as loathe as he was to watch it escape his grasp, he also knew that Spock had to have it. For his mother.

Spock had once offered to do Jim a favor, Jim could return one. It was Christmas time after all.

"I think I know of just the thing, just a sec," he said, standing quickly, and moving towards the silly armor, before he could develop second thoughts. He fished the book from its hiding spot, damn near sprinted back to the front desk and made small order of presenting it to Spock, their fingers accidentally touching during the hand off, as Spock eyed the book with mild curiosity.

"This book holds some meaning to you," Spock announced, startling Jim, and he had to kick himself for not remembering basic Xenobiology, something everyone learned their first semester in the Academy. Vulcans were touch telepaths.

"I collect books. Classic novels, like this one, that you can no longer find in this form," Jim admitted, inherently trusting Spock with this bit of personal knowledge. "And Dickens is considered by many to be par excellence. But if you read the book before giving it to your mother, you'll understand why I'm letting you take it. Tis the season and all that. I have no desire to be visited by three ghosts any time soon. Merry Christmas, Spock. I think your mother will love it."

Spock eyed him then with that same assessing look he'd been giving Jim in the coffee shop, just a week prior. Sizing him up, taking him apart, and putting him back together, piece by piece. But, unlike the last time, it didn't unnerve Jim as much. Instead he felt himself blush. Just a little, mind, and very manly going about it.

"I thank thee," Spock said with a nod, the corners of his mouth twitching in the approximation of what would be a grin, were Spock prone to such trivial displays of emotion. Jim allowed Spock to continue thinking this was the case, that he repressed his emotions like a good Vulcan, as Jim smiled fully and earnestly, on behalf of both of them. "I trust your judgment. I'm sure it is, indeed, the perfect gift."

Oh, but Spock was charming. At least, Jim felt very much charmed; he felt his smile widening despite himself.

With his luck, his face would end up stuck like this and people might think him chronically happy or something. But he found he didn't care what people thought any more today than he had yesterday, or the day before that.

He felt a twinge as Spock paid for his purchase and Jim watched the book walk out the door firmly in Spock's grasp, but he also felt kind of… peaceful about the whole thing.

It'd been awhile since that had happened.

If it ever had.

Christmas Day was anticlimactic. But then, that was nothing new.

Too depressed at the thought of spending the day subsiding on his usual fare of noodles and coffee, Jim decided a little indulgence was due, and went to the Academy mess hall for lunch. While most of the cadets and instructors were gone for the holiday, there was a sprinkling of people here and there, a lot of them alien, and probably wondering why their school year had to be interrupted by a Terran holiday. Not that Jim faulted them this. It did seem rather egocentric, whether hidden under the veil of the all-inclusive moniker 'winter holidays' or not.

But then, perhaps he was just feeling sour because Bones had clinic and Jim was feeling lonely. He didn't like to admit it often, especially to himself, but there were times, especially on this day of all days, when he longed for that family life he'd never had. All joy and hugs and welcome.

He could probably live without hugs, but he would like a place to unequivocally belong.

He hoped that, eventually, the stars might give him that.

Until then, it wasn't all bad. He had this delicious, hot meal. And although the turkey was probably processed and the creamed potatoes instant, it was still the best meal that Jim had had in ages, and it tasted wonderful. He savored every bite, chewing slowly to prolong the experience, and watching contentedly as people came and went.

Then what to his wandering eyes should appear, but a tall, handsome Vulcan, so wonderfully dear.

The day was getting better and better. Apparently there was a Santa Claus, and he'd gotten Jim exactly what he'd asked for this year – a Spock staying on campus for the holidays, just as Jim was.

That wonderful, mythical, delightful man.

Jim couldn't contain the smile that spread across his face as Spock surveyed the mess, eyes eventually landing on Jim, nor could he prevent it from spreading wider when Spock immediately headed his way.

The warmth that infused him then had nothing to do with the hot meal Jim was consuming.

"Is this seat taken?" Spock asked, dark eyes dancing.

"It's yours," Jim replied easily, trying, he hoped successfully, to hide how giddy he felt to be in Spock's presence just then.

Since the day in the antique shop, Jim had comm'd Spock to discuss his next semester of classes, gaining Spock's insight into the instructors' strengths and weaknesses, and which extra classes to take that would benefit his track (and give him bonus points when it came to ship assignment) but weren't necessarily required.

And then there was the day when Spock had shown up at the coffee shop, ordered a tea, and proceeded to sit at the counter for almost two hours to discuss XIX and XX century Terran literature with him. It had been the best afternoon Jim had had at that job since he'd started it, and the first shift he could recall on record where he didn't spend the entire duration of it willing time to move faster.

Following that afternoon, Spock took to making his visits to the coffee shop a regular occurrence and Jim had almost felt like offering up half the credits he made working there to Spock in gratitude for him making Jim's brainless job, well, less brainless. Almost.

The little crush he'd been developing (well, 'crush' was such a gauche word, more like - manly fixation- really) seemed to be growing from a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree to an entire forest of fully grown pines. But just for once, on this day of all days, Jim wouldn't allow himself to dwell on the fact that Spock was highly unattainable, as love interests go, and instead simply enjoy basking in his company.

"I have something for you, a holiday gift, if you will," Spock said. He reached into a pocket of his jacket and pulled out a PADD, turned it on, nodded when the screen lit to reveal the tab he apparently wanted, and handed it off to Jim.

Startled, Jim took it, his curiosity piqued.

"This is unexpected… I don't know what to say."

"Read it," Spock prodded gently.

So Jim did. And as he did he felt his heart begin to race, and his palms go clammy, looking up in disbelief first at Spock, then back down at the PADD, as if to confirm what he was reading was real.

"This is– " Jim started, his voice gruff with emotion.

"A full scholarship for the children of officers lost during active duty, one with no age limitations and one which Captain Pike and myself took it upon ourselves to petition for in your name, once I had brought it to his attention as a possibility for you. The application has been accepted. They will reimburse you for any credits you have already put down for the upcoming term."

"How did you find– " Jim tried to speak again, but found his throat just as tight as it had been the last time.

It felt too surreal, as if none of this could actually be happening: all of his financial troubles going away or Spock caring enough about Jim to do this for him.

"It was rather obscure. I surmise that perhaps it is carefully hidden to prevent it from becoming too accessible. But Captain Pike as well as myself both have invested interest in seeing you succeed. He would like you on the Enterprise for its maiden voyage, and has already stated as such to the other Captains who have voiced an interest in you. I look forward to serving with you. It is our hope that this eases your way."

There were a thousand things that Jim wanted to say just then. First being a litany of 'thank you, thank you, thank you,' followed by the use of every adjective he could fathom to describe how fantastic Spock was, how grateful Jim was, how much this meant to him. But he still couldn't find his voice, so instead he took his hand, and laid it on the table in front of Spock, who didn't seem to hesitate to cover it with his own.

When their fingers touched, Jim felt the energy between them, natural and brilliant, and then he pushed all that he was thinking into that point of contact.

Spock's eyes dilated, a small, barely audible gasp escaping his throat, and the way he was looking at Jim just then gave Jim hope that perhaps Spock wasn't so unattainable after all.

"Though thanks are unnecessary, you are most welcome," Spock said out loud, and Jim couldn't help but smile even through all of these heightened feelings he was experiencing.

Jim Kirk bowled over by a profound act of kindness – who would have thought it? But simply feeling this much, so, so much, was overwhelming.

He was glad it was Spock he got to experience it with.

"I feel bad that I don't have anything for you," Jim replied sheepishly, finally finding his voice.

"You have given me many gifts," Spock corrected, dark eyes conveying amusement.

"Oh? I think I would have remembered that," Jim returned, though there was very little defiance in it. He was too giddy for that, for Spock had yet to move his hand away.

"My mother contacted me this morning; she had received her gift. She was very taken with it. The smile on her face was most appealing. I would do a great deal to place such an expression on her face again," Spock said, softly running his fingers over Jim's in a gentle caress. Jim's breath hitched.

"In addition, as an instructor, it can be easy to become – disheartened at the amount of students who take their positions here at the Academy for granted. To find one so invested in learning that he goes through extraordinary lengths to accomplish it was a revelation."

"That's not a gift, that's just who I am, Spock," Jim argued, caught somewhere between immensely flattered, and gauchely crushing on Spock even more.

"Then who you are is a gift," Spock replied, his hand resting from its petting motion to completely encompass Jim's.

If Jim's heart beat any faster, it would fly out of his chest and up straight into the ceiling. As it was, he was glad that Spock's grasp on him was so firm, otherwise he'd be jumping up over the table just then and pulling Spock into a frantic embrace.

Spock would be the first person he'd known in his life to consider him a gift. It was incomparable.

"But I have yet to mention the best gift of all," Spock continued, eyes catching Jim's and holding them, utterly hypnotizing. "That day in the book shop, your hand touched mine; it was not just your regard for the book that I felt. I also felt your regard for… me."

A brief tint of fear crept into Jim's soul, his heart laid out and bare, but Spock's eyes still held his, their hands still touching, and from somewhere, perhaps from Spock himself, Jim got the feeling that Spock had no inclination of letting go.

"Your regard is returned," Spock finished, but it wasn't necessary he say it. Jim knew. The knowledge made his blood sing.

There was only one way to respond to that. One correct question to voice.

"You know, I don't have to work anymore. Whatever am I going to do with all of this free time suddenly thrust upon me?" Jim asked, energized, his meal forgotten.

"I could offer some suggestions," Spock responded, eyes lit with promise.

"I was hoping you would," Jim breathed, body leaning over the table and closer to Spock.

"For example, I know of this wonderful establishment for an enlightening afternoon cup of tea," Spock deadpanned.

Jim laughed, happier and more carefree than he could remember being in a very long while. "Oh, don't even joke about that!"

"Or perhaps you might accompany me to dinner this evening. I have been told that this particular holiday is more enjoyable when shared with those we hold in our highest regard," Spock offered instead, squeezing Jim's hand in clear affection.

"Sounds like a great plan to me," Jim replied, and if he was grinning a bit like a dopey idiot, as he suspected he was just then, no one could blame him.

It was on their way out the door together, walking side by side, their footsteps in sync, that Jim thought that perhaps it wasn't the stars, themselves, that would give him a place to belong, but rather the people he journeyed them with.

The End!

To my readers: Your support has been encouraging and greatly, greatly appreciated. I wish you all happy holidays! :-)