Fic: Best of all Gifts, written for k/s advent 2012

This has been edited from the original to conform to fan fiction's rating system.

Many thanks to my Beta, davidpierresceb9. She was brilliant and patient with me, as I had never used one before. I learned a lot from her, tons of kudos!

The Best of all Gifts

Jim loved taking the Bart. It was an ancient subway system. It's metal cars bumped over old tracks, above ground and below San Francisco and the Bay. He usually didn't mind the loudness, the crowded cars, the smells; it was archaic but always interesting. Jim enjoyed watching the people on the train, especially this time of year. They would have packages, sometimes wrapped in Christmas foil, sometimes just hanging out of a backpack. He was childishly gleeful watching his fellow travelers, imagining their excitement for the holidays.

Jim looked out the scratched plastic window before the subway dipped below ground. He could almost see the City as it might have looked before the last war, her elegant Victorians and glass skyscrapers silhouetted against the sky with the Bay and the bridges as backdrops. It had changed over the last century and lost some of its attachment to the past.

Now, with Starfleet Headquarters pressing its perimeters, San Francisco had become truly a Galaxy Class city, Andorian restaurants sat side by side with Tellerite and Ferengi "small shops". The Embarcadero was full of aliens from every corner of Federation space. He could hear dozens of languages spoken so quickly; even the Universal Translator couldn't keep up with them. Yes, San Francisco was an exciting place to be.

Jim missed space, though. It had been an integral part of him but if he had to be grounded, mired in Starfleet politics, the City was his post of choice. As a Fleet Admiral, his day was filled with paperwork and meaningless conversation. It wasn't that different from being the Captain of the Enterprise, those many years ago, except that the highs were not as high and thank god, the lows never reached the nadir of losing men.

The cold plastic seats of Bart were uncomfortable. Jim shifted and wrapped his wool overcoat more tightly around him. He'd considered taking an air car, it was faster, warmer and more comfortable, but there had been no real need to hurry home after his last meeting. There was nothing to come home to, after all.

It was Christmas Eve. As a boy, that meant a replicated Christmas tree, tasteless food and the promise that Santa Claus would bring him his heart's desire. Presents, once opened, inevitably disappointed, being no substitute for real affection. His family had tried, many times over the years, to have a kind of Norman Rockwell Christmas and failed. He and his brother Sam had learned not to be put off. They'd learned early that ramping up for Christmas, the decorating, buying and wrapping presents, the promise that on this one day everything and everyone would bask in love lead to a certain disenchantment. Christmas never quite lived up to its reputation.

As a child, he might have found satisfaction in Christmas' religious underpinnings. They'd gone to church regularly, he'd marveled over the crèche and participated in Holy Communion. Jim had prayed.

As an adult, he'd found no solace in God. When God had turned his back on him, Jim had been relieved. There was no higher power making decisions for mankind. If God existed, he did a mighty poor job of being merciful and looking out for the innocent. Jim, rather than being angry, had simply given up and embraced a generic belief that somebody, somewhere, had created something and hopefully knew where they all were going with it.

Ultimately, Christmas was mostly an ill-kept tradition for him. On the Enterprise, in deference to other religions, this time of year had been generally celebrated as Solstice, incorporating Hanukah and Christmas, Kwanza and Sioppan, Verist and K'morrah. It meant a feast, decorating the Shuttle bay in red and green, and pretending to be Santa. There had been both joy and nostalgia in the festivities, so many men and women separated from their families, they had somehow created their own among their crewmates.

Since he had been grounded, younger men had taken those silvered starships places he'd been and dreamed of going, and he'd stayed mostly on Earth. He rarely celebrated the holiday himself but frequently found himself caught up in the holiday traditions of others.

He'd gone to Uhura's home one year, a farm house just off Lake Victoria in the eastern part of Kenya and been awed by the history and wildlife there. She and her sisters welcomed him like a long lost brother. Several evenings he sat on the daka porch, watching the giraffes tamely meander over the long lawns sloping down to the lake and listening to the splash of fish on dark water. He'd reached for Spock's hand, thinking he reminded him of those tall, awkward, ever curious creatures.

Another year he'd gone to Scotland, joining Scotty and a raucous band of relatives in Glasgow. There had been drinking, singing, and dancing, so much so that he'd actually missed Christmas entirely, waking two days later with a crashing headache and a cool compress pressed to his forehead by a gentle, long fingered hand.

One of his favorite Christmases had been spent with Leonard McCoy and his family in Georgia. Joanna, her husband and children, had congregated at the McCoy home, an aging wood house, near the old park. The house had been decorated very traditionally, Christmas tree, holly, and garlands. The smell of roast beef, turkey, a Virginia ham, eggnog, and pies of every description, had permeated the air. Someone had placed mistletoe artfully over the doorways. Much to Jim's surprise, Spock had made use of each and every opportunity to kiss him, with a Vulcan swipe of his fingertips if others were present or in the human style if he thought he might not have witnesses.

The Bart deposited Jim at his stop and he began his walk home, coat pulled up around his ears. He stepped beneath street lights, peeked in windows as he passed houses, admiring Christmas trees standing against front room windows, and holographic reindeer pawing on top of roofs, covered in synthetic snow. He smiled, vicariously enjoying the celebrations of others.

Jim turned down his street, in an old part of town, apartments dating from the 1900s. His home was an old brownstone, built earlier, 1890s at least. It was one of the few survivors of the wars that had torn North America apart in 2100s. He stood on the sidewalk, looked up at his dark windows, and straightened his wool scarf. His house was normally so warm and welcoming but on this cold night, seemed desolate and sad.

He shook his head, remembering that Spock, who made the house a home, was attending a conference on Altair. He'd been gone for a month and was sorely missed. Scotty was with Spock, lecturing on emergent warp technology and Jim took some comfort in the fact that although he was away, at least he had a friend and confidant with him.

Jim let himself in, closing the old wood door behind him and stepped into the foyer, hanging his overcoat and uniform jacket on the old hand turned pegs on the wall. With a sigh, he dropped his briefcase on the bench and turned toward the back of the house.

He noticed a dim light coming from the living room and upbraided himself for leaving lights on. He followed the glow down the long hall and turned right into the open archway leading into the living room.

Suddenly, he felt his stomach clench. Someone had been here. He quickly took in the smell of pine and the crackling of a fire in the ancient fireplace. As he stepped into the room, wary, soft lights came on a Douglas fir, sitting to the right of the fireplace. The tree was decked for Christmas, dim lights casting colorful shadows on the walls, reflecting off glass ornaments hanging from the tree's limbs. Jim stared, looked back at the merrily burning fireplace with two stockings hanging on the mantle, and had a brief moment of merriment that perhaps Christmas elves had visited him.

Not elves, exactly. From out of the shadows, a dark figure stepped, lifting an eloquent brow.

"Spock!"

"Indeed, Admiral. Merry Christmas, I believe is the appropriate greeting."

"Spock!" Jim took in Spock's beloved face and sighed happily.

"Yes?" Spock walked toward him; hands tucked behind his back, but hesitated, suddenly unsure.

Jim mentally shook himself and strode to Spock, engulfing him in an all-encompassing hug. Spock might have squeaked, but would later deny it.

Spock had something in his hands behind his back and when he reached to lay it down on the couch, Jim grabbed it with a grin.

"What's this?"

"A present."

Jim dropped the wrapped box on the couch and grabbed Spock by the shoulders. "And here, I thought you were my gift. What are you doing here?"

Spock wrapped his arms loosely around his waist and pressed his forehead against Jim's.

"Mr. Scott and I decided that the conference could continue without our presence and returned to Earth in order to celebrate the holidays with our families."

"Oh, and I am family?"

"Of course you are, Jim."

Jim smiled, his nose bumping Spock's.

"And you decorated the house for Christmas?"

"I decorated our house for Christmas."

Jim stepped back and studied his Vulcan.

"In that case, perhaps I should unwrap my present here."

"Of course, Admiral, but you might prefer to make yourself comfortable first."

Jim eyed Spock warily. He had something up his sleeve but he was happy to go along with whatever Spock had planned. Giving Spock a mock glare, he stepped out of his arms and backed from the room, turned and virtually bounded up the stairs to the bedroom, where he found soft flannel pajamas laid out for him on the bed.

Barely ten minutes later, he was downstairs, plaid flannels skimming his slight paunch, feet pushed into faux sheepskin slippers. He eagerly popped around the arch into their living room and saw Spock sitting back against their green velvet couch, looking deeply into the crackling fire, feet propped on the Stickney coffee table. Spock had also changed, wearing a deep purple robe and ridiculously fluffy white slippers. He greeted Jim with a slight smile.

Jim plopped down beside him, putting his feet up as well. He glanced at the coffee table, wood glowing in the firelight and noticed the crystal decanter was set in the middle, surrounded by two small-stemmed glasses. The decanter was filled with . . . something blue.

Pointing at the glasses, Jim noted, "So, Mr. Spock, it seems you have an agenda."

"Not so, Admiral. I merely wish to provide you with the appropriate environment for this holiday."

Jim sobered, taking in the fire, the tree and the Christmas stockings hanging from the mantle. "Spock, I'm touched you would go to this trouble. But honestly, Christmas pales compared to just having you home with me."

Spock stretched his arm behind Jim and pulled him into his warm side. Jim basked in the attention, allowing Spock to pet and caress him, not with seduction in mind, but with simple affection.

A few minutes passed, the two of them enjoying the fire. Spock cleared his throat. "Jim, what is Christmas to you? I ask only because it seems to be difficult for you. You embrace the traditions reluctantly and ignore the religious aspects in their entirety."

Jim forced himself not to stiffen and instead leaned into Spock's shoulder.

"It's complicated."

"I know, but I would like to hear why, if you are willing."

Jim was silent for a few long minutes, gathering his thoughts.

"When I was a child, I was taught to believe in God. I prayed to him every day and every night right up to the point I went to Tarsus."

Spock breathed, pressing his cheek onto Jim's hair. "Jim, you do not . . ."

"No, you asked, and this story has been too long in coming. On Tarsus, I learned that there was no mercy, no compassion, no kindness, when humans are desperate. I saw my aunt pray to save her daughter. She starved to death. I saw our neighbor pray to protect his son, but he died too, needlessly in the food riots. I learned to not trust God, he or she or it will do what they will, the rest of us can't rely on it or them. We make our own solutions and create our own justice."

Spock's hand opened on Jim's head and pressed him closer. This was an old, deep wound that every being must resolve for themselves. Spock couldn't provide any real answers.

"Jim," Spock started hesitantly, "I am not a Christian, but many of the Christian beliefs are similar to Surak's philosophy. Mercy, compassion, kindness, and yes, logic, are ideals to strive toward, not guarantees. Is it possible that this ideology is simply a framework, set down by someone or something wiser than we that we should strive toward? I know you. You have lived by that creed your entire life. Is not that the purpose behind such beliefs, to give you a path to follow, if you will?"

"I didn't follow that path on Tarsus. There are decisions I have made since that hardly showed mercy or compassion."

Spock turned toward him, visibly upset. "That is untrue. I have known you since and you have always chosen the best reasoned path, the most compassionate, whenever the facts have allowed."

Jim looked Spock in the eyes. "Yes, and isn't that the same excuse Kodos used? The facts allowed! I have made decisions that were expedient, for the good of the service, and they weren't necessarily the 'right' ones. If God is benevolent and all powerful, why wouldn't he stop some of the atrocities we've seen?"

"Jim, I do not know. I do know you are honorable and compassionate, sometimes to a fault. The responsibility for the actions of others is not yours."

"No, maybe not, but if I remember and regret all the petty cruelties that I have done and seen; that is all I can do."

"It is enough. You must not also take on the pain of every creature; you will not be able to function, to do good. Maybe that is the lesson you must take from Christmas. Do what is in your power to improve your life and the lives of others around you. Jim, you have done this for me."

Jim laid his head against Spock's shoulder and stared into the fire. Part of him wanted to believe Spock and part of him thought his analysis was too simplistic. Spock wouldn't change his mind. Jim had seen too much. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift.

A couple of hours later, Jim found himself suddenly awake, head in a warm lap, a heavy arm draped around him, Spock's breath was even in sleep. Jim reached around and pressed his hand to his lover's steady beating heart.

He reached around for his gift, sitting forlornly at the bottom of the couch, when Spock suddenly came awake and batted his hand away.

He didn't even open his eyes, but his deep voice reprimanded Jim. "Admiral, this must be opened on Christmas morning."

Jim glanced quickly at the clock on the mantle. It was exactly 12:05. With a squeal, he jumped off the couch, grabbing the gift, and bounded up the stairs. Spock could hear their bedroom door slam and what sounded like maniacal laughter coming from behind the door.

Spock sighed. Jim might not wholly embrace Christmas but there was one tradition he was consistently fond of. Spock turned off the fire and the tree lights, dowsed the lights and made his way to the kitchen, where a pot of hot chocolate would soon be made, delivered upstairs and consumed with childish glee by at least one of them. He might not necessarily believe in Christmas himself, but he was always content to bring Jim a touch of the Christmas spirit.