The Spirit of the Season by Djinn

Chapel walked down the long hall of the Vulcan embassy, sure that she would not be bombarded by anything remotely yuletide in this bastion of logic. She was wrong. Amanda had done the place up right. She slowed, sensed Spock reducing his speed next to her.

He settled his hand on her lower back, where he knew she liked to be touched. "When are you going to tell me why you dislike this holiday so?"

"My liking it or not is irrelevant." She pulled him to her. "Your mother loves this holiday, doesn't she?"

"She does. I think the state of the great room is evidence of that." He let an eyebrow rise. "Apparently the chief of protocol tried to stop her. He is newly appointed and unfamiliar with her ways—or determination."

She smiled. "Then she has no need to know that this isn't my favorite time of year."

"Fine, then we will not tell her. But why will you not explain it to me?" He moved closer. "I am your husband. And since I recently died..."

"Do not pull that card. Recently was fifteen months ago. Besides, you wouldn't understand." She slipped away from him, managed to plaster a smile on her face and sing out, "Merry Christmas" to Amanda as she walked into the enormous room turned winter wonderland.

"Oh, darlings, you're here." Amanda beamed at them. "I've put you in the T'Kal suite. Do you need help with your bags?"

"No, we've lugged them this far, up the stairs won't kill us." She hugged Amanda, then turned to see Sarek studying her with an assessing look. She walked over to him. "You have a comment?"

"You do not seem as happy as you did in July. Has Spock done something to irritate you?"

She laughed. "Trust you to assume that straight off." She took his arm, gave him the sort of sideways hug they'd perfected. "No, we're fine."

"Then something is amiss with you?"

What was it with these Vulcan men? Amanda was blissfully unaware of Chapel's Christmas angst, yet nothing slid by Spock and Sarek. "I'm just tired."

"Hmmm."

"I'm going to go unpack."

"We will talk later. I would like your help shopping for Amanda, if you don't mind?"

She smiled. "I thought we went over this on her birthday. Gems. Big and shiny."

"Christine, please?" He gave her the look that told her he knew he was manipulating her—and that he knew she knew he was manipulating her.

That still didn't help her resist him. "Oh, fine. I'll help you."

He nodded as if she was granting him a very great favor, then went to join Amanda, who seemed to think more tinsel was needed on the tree.

"You know, tinsel is bad for the cats," Chapel said, earning herself a glare from everyone. "What? Just because these cats live in the Vulcan embassy you think they won't be attacking that tree the minute your back is turned? Dream on." She picked up her favorite cat—a little grey tabby named Dreamer—and said, "Aren't you going to climb that tree?"

Dreamer cuddled against her and purred. He might be the sweetest of the felines, but he was also the most destructive. Chapel gave some of the lower ornaments a lifespan of minutes once he caught on that they were removable—and breakable.

"Got get 'em, tiger," she said as she put him down gently and followed Spock back to their bags.

They carried them up to the T'Kal suite, one of her favorite rooms to stay in, and she collapsed onto the sofa. Spock sat down next to her, and she knew he was studying her.

"Stop it." She got up, started unpacking.

"My mother asked me an interesting question. I did not have an answer to it."

She didn't stop unpacking.

"She asked me why you didn't have any decorations of any kind in your apartment—she noticed when she dropped by to see you last year. I did not know the answer. You exchange Christmas gifts so I assume that is the holiday you celebrated as a child?"

"It was." She turned to look at him. "Why can't you leave this alone?"

"Because you seem sadder this year and I don't know why. I do not remember you being sad before around the winter holidays."

"You didn't know me that well before. You weren't living with me before."

"Are you saying you were sad?"

"Spock, please. Leave it alone. I want to try to enjoy our time here, all right? I don't want to play psychoanalyze Christine. Some of us don't really like the holidays. But we play along."

"You decorated on the Enterprise."

"Because it was expected. I did it for Roger, too. He expected his fiancée to deck the damn halls, so I did. And I'll make your mom happy, I promise. But in here, let me relax. Let me just be me." She went back to the sofa, sat down next to him. "The me who loves you and is glad she's with you, but doesn't want to hear a single Christmas song playing on that speaker, you understand?"

He nodded.

She kissed him very slowly and very thoroughly. "Thank you."

##

Chapel trailed along behind Sarek as he led her into Gump's, the fancy department store that was a San Francisco landmark. She smiled at the restrained decorations, at the clove and ginger and orange scent that filled the air. "I've always loved this place," she murmured.

"Amanda enjoys it, too." He seemed to be studying her again. "How long have you shopped here?"

She tried to close down her smile somewhat. "Since I was a kid. My dad..." She looked away.

"He died when you were young, did he not?"

She nodded.

"Did he bring you here to shop?"

"Yeah."

"At Christmas?" He was watching her carefully, and she felt like a specimen under a microscope.

"It didn't look much different then." She took a deep breath. "Every year, we'd come here to get presents for my mom. Usually from the candle shop. She loved anything that smelled good. The last year they had these satin roses you hung on the door knobs. They had sachets in them. I bought her one that smelled like carnations. Can't abide the scent to this day." She shook herself. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that."

"You don't visit your mother when you come to Earth, do you?"

"Not if I can help it." She swallowed hard.

"And she was at the wedding but...clearly not a part of your life."

"I was eleven when my father died. He was...this force of life. He loved Christmas. He made Christmas, the same way Amanda does. I loved it back then. But then he was killed in a simple little training exercise and my mother...lost her way, I guess is the charitable way to put it." Chapel shook her head. "She threw away everything that was his. She didn't even give me a chance to take what I wanted. A shirt of his. A book. She just tossed it. Too painful, I suppose, for her to see every day, but still."

"Did that include the Christmas things?"

"Oh, no. She made us do Christmas without him." She could feel her mouth going tight. "I was a brat about it. That was the beginning of the end for our relationship. We spent the rest of my teen years beating it to death. And then I left for college—I had a full scholarship so I didn't need to keep in touch with her—and didn't look back. She was only at the wedding because Spock made me invite her."

Sarek lifted an eyebrow.

She shook her head. "Quite the daughter-in-law you've got, huh?"

"I am wondering why he did that to you."

She laughed. "Maybe he thought he'd like her as much as I like you." At his almost smile, she shook her head. "He didn't. There's nothing to like because she's empty."

"Just because she is empty does not mean you have to be. Why do you allow her to ruin your holidays even now?"

Chapel laughed, a slow expulsion of air, such a bitter sound. "You make it sound so simple. Get over it."

"It is never simple. My relationship with Spock is evidence of that. But you deserve happiness, Christine. My wife says there is joy in the season."

"There used to be."

"Perhaps there can be again." He touched her cheek, then looked over at the jewelry department. "I will not lecture you any further. You indicated a large gem was in order?"

She smiled and let him lead her to the jewelry cases. As she helped him pick out a lovely gift for Amanda, she thought it would be the height of irony if she rediscovered her yuletide spirit among Vulcans.

##

"Did you and Sarek have a nice day?" Amanda asked as she handed Chapel a glass of wine and sat in the chair next to her.

Chapel was sitting on the floor, playing with Dreamer and Hobo, a black and white brute Sarek had found as a kitten. It was like her in-laws were magnets for homeless cats. Good thing Vulcans were crazy—in a dignified way, of course—for the animals.

"We did. I always enjoy him."

"He enjoys you." Amanda stroked her hair, then began to braid it, adding in some kind of greenery. "Why do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Get so stiff? Do I make you uncomfortable when I do this?" She didn't stop the braiding. "It's ridiculous, I know, at my age, but I always wanted a daughter. A little girl I could dress up and do her hair."

"You cannot dress me up."

Amanda laughed. "Fine, but can I do your hair? Relax, Christine."

Chapel leaned back against Amanda's chair. "Before my dad died, my mom used to do that."

"You never talk about your mom."

"That's because I hate her." The words hung out like ugly things. So, so wrong for this time of year. "I'm sorry. I mean, I don't hate—"

"Christine, please. You don't have to pretty up your feelings on my account. Do you think just because I like glitter and fake snow and angels I wouldn't want you to tell me the truth?" She went back to whatever she was doing to Chapel's hair. "Why do you hate her?"

"It's not logical."

"Well, hatred rarely is." Amanda sighed, let go of Chapel's hair, and leaned down and hugged her tightly, whispering into her ear. "Just say it."

"Everything that was good was my dad. My mom took it all away. And she ruined Christmas. I've hated it ever since." She reached up and held onto Amanda. "I've hated her ever since." She wanted to cry, but her eyes were dry. She hadn't cried about this for so long. "But...I lost Roger. I know what it is to be alone like that. How hard it is. And we all lost Spock—but he came back. How much would she have given for my dad to have come back?"

"The world, I imagine."

"She'd have traded me for him, I know that. I wasn't anything to her without him."

"And it's good to know that. To be mature and assess how she must have been feeling. But does it help the little girl inside you?"

"No. That little girl has had to live without her parents since she was eleven. She's pretty unforgiving."

"Well, she has parents now, Christine. You're our daughter. Sarek loves you like his own, don't you know that? He can't talk to Spock the way he can you. I think my son's a little jealous of you." Amanda laughed softly. "I'm not the only one who wanted a little girl, you know."

"You have Saavik."

"Oh, darling. Saavik is Spock's child, not ours."

Chapel thought about it. "You're right. She's your grandchild. You spoil her."

"Well, someone has to. Spock is always making her mind." Amanda gave her a squeeze and then let her go. "If I turn on Christmas carols will you strangle me?"

Chapel laughed. "No. I'll deal."

"That's my brave girl." Amanda dialed something up on the room controller and an old English carol filled the room. "So what did Sarek get me?"

"I'm not telling you that."

"Oh, come on, a little hint won't hurt."

"No power on this Earth, Amanda." She went back to playing with the cats—the group had grown to include a little orange kitten. "Who is this?"

"Oh, that's Naga. Isn't she adorable?"

"You realize you're becoming a hoarder or something?"

"Nonsense. They all belong to different staff members here. They just...tend to do their own thing, as cats will do." Amanda laughed as the kitten jumped on top of Hobo. "But she's mine, I'll admit. I fell in love with her."

Chapel picked Naga up. The kitten swiped at her nose, then at her own tail. "Okay, she's pretty damn adorable."

"You could have a cat."

"Not on Jim's ship. Even if I am sitting in an ops billet." She grinned as she made Naga and Dreamer leap into the air following the string.

"He doesn't like cats?"

"He's more a dog person. But no critters on the ship. He learned his lesson with tribbles. Plus, regs."

"Pffff." Amanda waved her hand in the grand gesture of those who could not be bothered by regulations.

Chapel handed Amanda the string and pushed herself to her feet. "I think I'm going to go join my husband."

"Good night, my dear. Sleep well. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Did you celebrate on Christmas Day or Eve as a child?"

"Day."

Amanda nodded. "My family did, too. So we continue that tradition here. Christmas Eve is for a good meal."

"And Santa."

"I was going to say Church. But I go to that alone. Vulcan men aren't much for deities." She looked down and Chapel recognized something in her face, a kindred spirit, going it alone.

"I'll go with you."

"You will?"

Chapel nodded. "I shouldn't let my mom go to church alone on Christmas Eve, now should I?" Suddenly, her eyes were blurry, and she blinked furiously. Now she was crying?

Amanda's smile was luminous. "No, I suppose you shouldn't. I go to the ten o'clock service. The church is just down the street. We can walk."

"Sounds good." She tried to pretend she wasn't trying not to cry.

She thought Amanda was trying to do the same thing.

##

She found Spock on the sofa reading. She walked over to the room controller, dialed up some Christmas music and let it play softly as she walked over to him and climbed onto his lap, taking the padd away from him.

"I thought you said—"

"I know what I said. But it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind." She smiled at him, knew her expression was finally untroubled. "I'm sorry I shut you out. I can show you why I am sad, if you want?"

He nodded and reached for the meld points, joined with her easily, and she let him hover as they just touched for a moment. The meld could be so intimate when it was like this, so warm and safe.

She gave him a picture of what to look for, could feel him finding his way through the memories, to ones she normally kept locked down—even from him.

It was hard to let him in, even when she really wanted to, and he waited patiently while she slowly relaxed and forced down her inner walls. Then he moved gently, as if going too fast might spook her, might cause her to raise her defenses again.

She let him see it all, let him feel it all. Didn't hide any of it, not the way her mother made her hurt, not the horrible way she behaved to a woman who was so clearly in pain. Not even the anger she felt at her father.

When Spock finally pulled away, she was trembling violently. He held her close, rubbing his hands down her back, as if trying to warm her up.

"I never felt like I belonged to anyone after I lost my dad, and then her—even if she was right in front of me. I went after people who were never going to give me all of their heart. Roger. You." She pulled away so she could look at him. "I didn't want to be hurt that way again. But then you died. And when you came back, you were different."

"My brother was part of it, what he taught me. And my death. Time had run out and then been handed back to me. I wanted to share my life with someone. With you."

She ran her hand down his cheek, smiled when he closed his eyes at her touch. "And suddenly you weren't so inaccessible. And I was in danger again. And that's I think why this Christmas has been so scary for me. I didn't expect it to be. And it's not now. Because you're not my mom or my dad. And neither are your parents. And I'm not that little girl any more. I need to let her go. I need to let her grow up and move on."

"Do you need to forgive your mother?"

She shrugged. "Someday maybe. Not today. Not tomorrow. Or this Christmas. Baby steps, okay?"

He nodded.

"I'm gonna fix me first. Then I'll maybe reach out to her. But Spock, there may not be much of a her to reach out to."

"I realize that. I realized that when I talked to her at our wedding. I'm sorry I forced that when you did not want her there."

She nodded. "It's done. I love you. I know you love me. You did it with the best intentions." She heard the music change to "The Coventry Carol" and leaned against him. "This was my father's favorite."

"It is lovely."

"I'm glad you came back to life, Spock."

"As am I." He pulled her to him, kissed her more fiercely than she expected. "I am sorry I did not reach for you sooner."

"Maybe we happened exactly when we were supposed to."

"A very sanguine way of looking at things." He eased her up, let her pull him up after her. "Everything in its own time."

"Exactly. Change. Growth. Forgiveness. Even...renewal." She began to take off his clothes. "I love you."

He returned the favor. "And I love you. That you do not need to ever question."

"I know."

As he took her hand and led her to the bed, he said, "Thank you for letting me in."

"You're welcome. Thank you for not pushing." She pushed him to his back, crawled on top of him.

He frowned. "Is that mistletoe in your hair?"

"If it is, blame your mother." She smiled and kissed him, then said, "Merry Christmas, Spock."

He lifted her until she was sitting more to his liking, barely got out, "Merry Christmas, Christine," before he started to move.

She didn't mind. This was a great way to work her way back into the season.

FIN