Title: The Bitter and the Sweet
Series: Star Trek TOS
Summary: Spock tries to replace something that Jim has lost. (This story was written for the 2003 SAC, and was previously published there.)
Disclaimer: The characters and the Star Trek series are the property of Paramount-Viacom. This is an amateur work of fan fiction written solely for pleasure, and not for profit.
Beta: Many thanks to Dina for her time and encouragement.
Feedback: Gratefully received! firstname.lastname@example.org
The humans had a saying: “Patience is a virtue.” Spock always had considered it a surprisingly apt motto, especially when one considered that its source was such an illogical and turbulent species. And by the humans’ definition, Spock was virtuous indeed. He was patient in his research, pursuing knowledge in cautious, meticulous, and thoroughly planned out steps. He was patient on the bridge, conscientiously checking and rechecking data before venturing to present his theories and recommendations. And when Jim began to avoid him, offering excuses only but no true explanation, Spock had been patient, also, with his t’hy’la. He will come to me when he is ready, he told himself as he lay alone in his bed. If I wait, he will eventually tell me what is troubling him, and I will find a way to help him solve it.
But even Spock’s patience was not limitless, especially when the welfare of his t’hy’la was at stake. With every passing day, he grew more concerned by the signs of stress he saw so clearly on Kirk’s expressive face. By the end of the seventh day, he reached a new conclusion. He is not going to come to me after all, he thought, as he watched his captain leave the bridge at the end of his shift. It is therefore logical that I seek him out instead. Next hour, when my relief arrives, I shall find him, and I shall question him until he tells me what is wrong.
In truth, it did not take long to find Kirk, once Spock began to search: there were a few places Jim always sought out when he needed peace, or solitude, and Spock knew of them all. Jim’s quarters. The storage area behind the engine room, where the mighty hum of the ship was most easily heard and felt. The observation deck.
Spock searched all three places, in that order, and found Jim at last on the observation deck. The starship captain was standing completely motionless and was staring intently into the vast viewing screen. Outside the ship, the magnificent Cat’s Eye Nebula shimmered and glowed, a bright nucleus of binary stars suspended in a massive, luminous cocoon of gas and dust.
Kirk did not turn when Spock entered the room, and for a moment the Vulcan paused near the doorway, uncertain of his first move. Finally, he walked up to the human and stood by his side, silently regarding the display screen. “A most beautiful spectacle,” he finally ventured.
“Do you think so?” Kirk asked shortly.
Spock’s eyebrow rose slightly. “It usually gives you pleasure to view such phenomena.”
“Well, this time it makes me feel small. Small and insignificant.”
Spock opened his mouth to reply, but Jim cut him off. “I need you to do something for me.”
“Indeed. What is it?”
“I need you to go to the party in my place.”
This time, Spock’s eyebrow disappeared underneath his bangs. “In your place? But surely you realize that the crew expects us both to attend.”
“I don’t care what they expect,” Jim said harshly. “I’m not going.”
Spock studied Jim’s profile with concern. “What is it?” he asked the human softly, more certain than ever that something was deeply troubling his t’hy’la. It was unlike Kirk either to avoid a party, or to be so uncaring about the morale of his crew.
Jim did not answer for a long moment. At last he said, “You wouldn’t understand.”
“If you do not tell me, how can I?” Spock queried gently, and waited.
“Three days from now,” Kirk finally informed him, his gaze still fixed on the nebula, “it will be Christmas on Earth.”
Spock pursed his lips, considering. Jim usually was fairly logical, for a human at least. However, this evening it was a challenge to follow his train of thought. He finally said cautiously, “I am aware of that.”
“In Iowa,” Kirk continued, as if the Vulcan had not spoken, “my mother will have put up the Christmas tree. She’ll invite my aunts and uncles and cousins over for dinner like she always does. She’ll probably make an especially big fuss over everything this time around because Peter’s there, and she’ll want him to have a real Christmas.”
“Ah,” Spock said. He thought he was beginning to comprehend. “You wish that you could be there as well?”
Kirk turned and looked at Spock for the first time. The Vulcan caught his breath when he saw that Jim’s eyes were bright, not with reflected light from the nebula, but from unshed tears. “No. I wish Sam could be.” He shut his eyes and turned away.
Spock put his hand on Jim’s shoulder but did not attempt to draw him close; he somehow sensed that the human would not welcome an embrace. “But,” he pointed out, “surely Sam did not usually travel all the way from Deneva to Iowa for the holidays. And even if he did, you…”
“…Would be here on the Enterprise,” Kirk finished for him. He shook his head. “I knew you wouldn’t understand. I don’t even understand it myself.” He sighed and rubbed his forehead, searching for words. “I didn’t expect to see him this Christmas. But I did expect…” his voice broke. “I did expect to see him some Christmas.”
“In the future,” Spock said.
“Yes,” Kirk whispered. He shrugged, and told the Vulcan, “It’s been six years since we both were home for the holidays. But I remember it so clearly, mainly because we always did the same thing. Christmas Eve night we all opened gifts. We always had a contest - he and I - to see which of us could give the other the most god-awful sweater. He won last time, hands down: that thing had more colors in it than a Kornephoron Lizard with a fever.” He gave a short laugh at the memory. “Then on Christmas, the whole clan would come over for dinner. We’d talk and joke around and play games – you know, just enjoy each other’s company. But after everyone went home, that was my favorite time.”
“Why was that?” Spock asked, relieved that Jim was at least talking.
“Because Sam and I would go on a walk together. Every single Christmas, no matter what the weather did. One year, we went out in freezing rain and came back completely encased in ice – you should have heard Mom holler at us.”
“I must admit,” Spock said carefully, “I fail to see the attraction of exposing oneself to the elements in that manner, just to pursue exercise.”
Kirk shook his head. “You don’t understand,” he said patiently. “We weren’t interested in exercise. We were interested in having our time together, after all the clamor and hubbub of the family dinner.”
“I see,” Spock said, and indeed, he did see. Like our chess games, he thought to himself.
“We were always so busy,” Kirk reminisced, “chasing off after our careers and our dreams. We took each other too much for granted. Sometimes we wouldn’t really talk for months on end, in fact. But on those walks, all the words came so easily. I could tell him anything. And he felt the same. I was the first to know when he fell in love with Aurelan – he told me on Christmas Day, on one of those walks.”
This time, Spock did draw Kirk close, and Jim fell into the embrace willingly, resting his cheek against the Vulcan’s chest. “I don’t want Christmas this year,” Kirk murmured. “And I don’t want that stupid party, either. Go to it for me.”
Spock thought for a moment. The crew’s holiday party, like Christmas on Earth, was three days away. “If, on the evening of the party, you still wish me to attend in your place, I shall do so,” he promised, not telling Kirk that he planned to find a way to make his t’hy’la change his mind. Instantly, he felt some of the tension drain from Jim’s body.
“Thanks,” Kirk said, hugging Spock a little more tightly. “I knew you’d understand.”
Spock’s methodical brain attacked the problem, looking at it from every possible angle. He was forced to admit to himself that the grief that Jim had expressed on the observation deck had taken him by surprise. Sam had died more than six months ago, and after the first couple of weeks, Jim had ceased to speak of it. Spock had therefore assumed that the human had fully recovered from the loss.
But humans are complex and unpredictable, Spock reminded himself, in the solitude of his quarters. They say one thing and mean the opposite. They are ruled by their passions at one moment, and completely deny the truth of them the next.
He rose from his desk chair and began to pace the small confines of his quarters, meticulously reviewing everything Jim had said on the observation deck. Two facts had become apparent to Spock during that conversation. First, that Jim still mourned for Sam. Second, that Jim grieved not only for his brother, but also for the ritual they had shared together.
With a barely perceptible ironic smile, Spock glanced at his firepot. Most intelligent species, he knew, developed and adhered to rituals. The Vulcan race was certainly no exception: its gongs and chants and carefully orchestrated ceremonies were all testimony to that. Jim had feared that Spock would not understand his sense of loss, but he had been wrong: Spock comprehended instinctively that Jim grieved at least as much for the loss of his and Sam’s holiday custom as he did for the loss of Sam himself.
Spock returned to his chair and sat down in it, steepling his fingers thoughtfully. Sam was dead. It was therefore impossible fully to restore Jim’s Christmas ritual to him, for that depended upon Sam’s presence. But if it could not be restored… could it be replaced?
Spock sat for a long time in the semi-darkness, thinking and planning.
The Ha’kiv-Tevakh Ho-rah Will be held at 2100 hours today In the quarters of Commander Spock
Your presence is respectfully requested
The invitation had been left on Kirk’s bed while he was in the shower. It was hand lettered and on heavy, expensive-looking paper. Frowning, Kirk turned it over in his hand, as if the back of the paper would offer an explanation. What the hell is Spock up to? he thought to himself. He’s got to know I’m in no mood for stupid games. He dropped the invitation back onto the bed and began pulling on his uniform, still scowling, but also puzzling over the note in spite of himself. And what the hell was a… he peered more closely at the message, attempting to decipher it… a Ha’kiv-Tevakh Ho-rah, anyway? The words were unmistakably Vulcan, but he was fairly certain he’d never heard Spock utter them.
And it wasn’t like Spock to be so… so mysterious, either. In fact, Spock was usually direct to a fault. Kirk pondered for a moment, torn between demanding an explanation from the Vulcan, pretending he’d never seen the note in the first place, or…
… or just showing up at Spock’s quarters at the appointed time, and finding out firsthand what it was all about.
Kirk shook his head and smiled mockingly at himself. Why are you making such a big thing of this, anyway? If this is something important to him, then shouldn’t you just do it – unquestioningly? Isn’t that what he’d do for you – has done for you, in fact, too many times to list?
Suddenly resolved, Kirk pulled on his boots and headed to the bridge to begin his shift.
Spock’s door chime rang at precisely 2100, a fact that gave the Vulcan a slight feeling of relief: he had not been entirely certain, until that moment, that Jim would indeed respond to his summons. Nevertheless, he greeted his captain with characteristic serenity. “Good evening, Jim. Thank you for coming.”
Jim peered past Spock to the interior of the Vulcan’s quarters, which was lit by numerous flickering candles. He saw that two cushions had been placed upon the floor. Between them was an array of plates, bowls and goblets, along with a bottle of what appeared to be wine. He looked inquiringly at the Vulcan. “So, what’s this all about?” he asked, as Spock stepped aside to allow him to enter the room.
“Please seat yourself,” Spock said, indicating one of the cushions, “and I shall explain.”
Spock waited until Kirk was ensconced and then joined him, lowering himself onto the floor with a grace born of many years of meditation. “You told me two days ago that you are distressed because you no longer will be able to experience your usual Christmas ritual with your brother.”
Kirk immediately tensed. “That’s right, but I don’t…”
Spock broke in. “With your permission, I should like, then, to conduct another ritual - the Vulcan ceremony of Ha’kiv-Tevakh Ho-rah - in honor of your brother.”
Kirk shook his head slowly and shut his eyes against the pain. “I know you’re trying to help, but I honestly don’t think I can stand this right now.”
Spock leaned over and placed his hand over Kirk’s. He waited quietly until the human opened his eyes. “Will you trust me?” he asked Jim softly.
“Oh, god, Spock. You know I trust you with my life. It isn’t that! I just…”
“If you find you cannot endure this, we will end it. But I should like to do this for you, and for Sam Kirk, if you will allow me.”
Jim looked up at the ceiling to keep the tears from falling. “All right,” he finally whispered. “I guess I can’t feel much worse than this, anyway.” He turned his gaze to the Vulcan. “So what is this ceremony, anyway?”
“Ha’kiv-Tevakh Ho-rah translates roughly to ‘The Rite of Death and Life,’” Spock explained. “It is both an appreciation of life, and an acknowledgement of the sorrow of death.”
“Sorrow?” Jim asked, smiling slightly in spite of his tears. “Isn’t that an emotion?”
Spock replied very seriously, “The Ha’kiv-Tevakh Ho-rah existed long before the days of Surak. However, to deny that death causes sorrow to the living would be most illogical. Modern Vulcans acknowledge this. Thus, they continue to conduct the ritual on a regular basis.”
“So it’s a common practice? Why haven’t I heard of it?”
“Because it is a very private ceremony, held only within the family.” Spock reached over and poured two glasses of wine. Handing one to Kirk, he said simply, “You are my closest family member. It is appropriate, therefore, that we should share this.”
Kirk’s face softened. “Spock,” he whispered, and found himself unable to say any more because of a sudden tightness in his throat.
“This is wine made from the juice of the le’vanikh fruit,” Spock said, taking up his own glass. “We must both taste of it at once.”
Kirk obeyed, and found that the le’vanikh wine tasted both sweet and faintly smoky, quite unlike anything he’d ever tasted before.
“The taste of the le’vanikh lingers in your mouth?” Spock asked.
“As the memory of the dead lingers within us, the living,” Spock said. He placed his goblet on the floor and looked over at Jim, his dark eyes glittering in the candlelight.
Kirk waited, but Spock offered no further instructions. “What happens next?” he finally asked.
“We share with each other those memories.” Spock hesitated. “I am sorry: I did not know your brother. You must therefore do this part alone. You must tell me about Sam, share with me your memory of him.”
Kirk shook his head. “I don’t think I can do that, tonight of all nights. If I try, I’ll just end up in tears.”
“It is said that tears are healing for humans,” Spock reminded him. “Tell me about Sam. If you find you cannot bear it, we will stop. But please – try to tell me. Was he… like you?”
Kirk looked away, remembering. “In some ways, I suppose. He looked a lot like me, of course - anyone would have known we were brothers. But he was quieter, and… more of a scholar, really. We both loved to learn, but I was always more interested in how the knowledge could be applied. Sam didn’t care so much about that – he just wanted to know, for the sake of knowing. He read voraciously, everything from out-and-out trash to the classics, and he remembered everything he read.” Jim smiled, and looked at Spock. “If you tried to argue with him about something, he’d blindside you with some obscure fact or piece of trivia that completely blew your point to smithereens. Used to drive me nuts.” He eyed the Vulcan speculatively, a sudden thought occurring to him. “In that sense, he was a lot more like you than like me.”
Spock raised his eyebrow and offered Jim a little half-smile. “Indeed?”
“Indeed,” Jim answered, dryly. “It seems to be my fate to have family members who know more than I.”
“Most regrettable,” Spock acknowledged. “Did you debate frequently, then?”
Kirk grimaced. “Are you kidding? I knew better. I’m no fan of losing battles. No, more often than not, we teamed up. He was quiet, but he loved practical jokes, and he was inspired about planning them. He knew he could get away with almost anything because everyone thought he was so straight-laced. I remember one time at school, he…”
And Kirk talked, and Spock listened, well into the night. Jim was surprised at how easily the words came to him – as easily as they had come during his Christmas walks with Sam. And he was surprised also, when he had emptied himself, finally, of all of the words, to find how much his burden of grief had been lifted. He looked at Spock in wonderment. “How did you know?” he asked.
“I do not understand.”
“How did you know that this would make me feel better?”
Spock reached out and removed two green leaves from one of the bowls, placing them on an empty plate. “I know you,” he told Kirk quietly.
“Yes, you do – better than I know myself, I guess.” Kirk watched curiously as Spock dipped a small brass spoon into the second bowl, which was filled with a burgundy-colored conserve. Carefully, the Vulcan spread a spoonful of the substance onto both of the leaves. “What’s that?” Jim asked.
“The leaves are from the tritahlik, a common shrub on Vulcan.” Spock tore a tiny piece from a third leaf and held it out to Kirk. “Taste it,” he instructed.
Kirk took it, placed it in his mouth, and instantly shuddered. “Bitter.” “Yes,” Spock said. “In the Ha’kiv-Tevakh Ho-rah, it symbolizes death.” He skimmed the surface of the conserve with his fingertip and touched Kirk’s mouth with it. “Made from ok’rak berries. Taste.”
Gingerly, Kirk licked the preserve from his lip. “Mm. Sweet. Cloying, in fact.”
Spock nodded. “In this ritual, a representation of life.” He turned his attention to the tritahlik leaves that he had spread with the ok’rak conserve. Deftly, he rolled both of them up, capturing the conserve within each leaf, and handed one to Kirk. “Eat,” he instructed, and then placed the other in his own mouth.
Kirk wrinkled his nose, not eager to taste the bitterness of the tritahlik again. Nevertheless, he took it in his mouth, his eyes quickly widening in surprise as he chewed it. “It’s very good,” he admitted to Spock. “Delicious, in fact.”
Kirk swallowed, and then gave Spock a wry smile. “I think I get the message,” he said. “Life and death wrapped together.”
Spock nodded again. “The bitterness makes the sweetness more poignant. We are made to taste both together – to deny that would be to deny our very nature.”
Spock reached down and took Jim’s hand, drawing it up to his lips. He kissed the human’s fingers lightly, and then said to him earnestly, “Sam had his time. It seems to us that it was too short, but that is not for us to determine. He had his time, and he tasted fully.”
Jim’s smile was both tender and sad. “He did do that,” he replied.
Spock leaned over and touched his lips to Jim’s. On Kirk’s lips he found both sweetness and bitterness, and the heady, rich flavor of the le’vanikh wine as well. “This time is ours,” he told Jim, after the kiss. “It would be illogical not to taste it fully – while we can. You have a family still, Jim – one with which to celebrate, and to grieve.”
Jim’s eyes were full of tears again; he let them fall without shame. “Spock,” he half-sobbed. “I do love you. I- I don’t know what I would do without you in my life.”
“My t’hy’la.” Spock tore his eyes away from Kirk and glanced at the chronometer. It was fifteen minutes until midnight. “We must hurry and complete the rest of the rite before Christmas Eve is ended,” he told him.
“The Vulcan part is concluded,” Spock told him, as he rose from the cushion and moved across the room to his desk. He picked up a rectangular package wrapped in plain green paper. “But the human part remains to be done.” He walked over to Jim and handed the package to him.
Jim bit his lip. “A present? But I didn’t bring yours with me. I thought we were going to exchange gifts tomorrow.”
“I have another for you, for Christmas Day. But this must be opened tonight.” Spock reclaimed his cushion and waited expectantly.
Jim shrugged. “Well, all right.” Carefully, he started to undo the paper, eventually casting it aside as he exposed the bare box. Slowly, he removed the lid and peered inside, frowning slightly. “What is it? It looks like…” His words trailed off as he reached into the box and pulled the object out, holding it at arm’s length in front of him. For a long moment, he surveyed it with consternation. It was some kind of clothing - that much he could discern. It had two sleeves: a yellow, ridiculously long one with randomly placed purple and red tassels - and a shorter, green one with gray and fuchsia stripes of varying widths. The body of the thing was even more bizarre: a seemingly accidental conglomeration of yarn, fur, feathers and leather, all woven together in a mass of conflicting hues and textures. Over the left breast, however, was one familiar element: a gold Star Fleet insignia.
Jim lowered the object slowly to his lap and looked at Spock, a smile starting to spread across his face. “Don’t tell me,” he said.
Spock nodded, his expression very solemn. “Yes. It is your traditional Christmas Eve sweater.”
Kirk started to shake with silent laughter, or perhaps it was tears again. He picked up the knitted monstrosity and clutched it tightly to him, finally managing to say, “From both of you, I take it?”
Spock tilted his head. “In a sense, yes. I actually created it, but I believe that Sam would have approved.” He looked at Kirk with some anxiety. “I hope that it meets the criteria. Is it colorful enough? Is it, as you termed it, god-awful?”
This time, Kirk threw back his head and laughed wholeheartedly. “Don’t worry. I can assure you – Sam would be downright jealous. This is the absolute worst, most hideous piece of clothing I’ve ever seen in my life. How did you do it?”
“I reprogrammed the replicator: I instructed it to produce a knitted garment that was a synthesis of a Gomesian hunting tunic, a Surmanian jester’s costume, a Murzimese lounge jacket, and, of course, a Starfleet uniform top.”
“My god,” Kirk murmured. “You’re downright evil, you know that? I can’t believe you hotwired the replicator – not even Sam would have stooped to that.” He surveyed the Vulcan for a moment, and then shook his head. “You know, I’ve half a mind to wear it to the party tomorrow and tell everybody it was a gift from you – it would just serve you right.”
“I fear,” Spock said, his eyes twinkling suspiciously, “that no one would believe you.” He did not bother to share with Kirk his gratification that his t’hy’la had apparently changed his mind about shunning the crew’s holiday party.
Kirk shook his head, laughing ruefully. “You’re right: they wouldn’t.” He picked up the sweater again, studying it once more. “And do you know what the real hell of this is?”
“What is that?”
“That this… abomination… is the absolute nicest thing that anyone has ever done for me.” He got up and moved over to Spock. Kneeling on the floor beside him, he pulled the Vulcan close to him and held him for a long time.
Spock closed his eyes and hugged his t’hy’la back tightly. He could feel that Kirk was at peace, and he allowed himself to revel in that knowledge for a long, sweet moment.
Too soon, a voice whispered in his ear. “I do feel I should warn you, though.”
Spock’s eyes snapped open. “Indeed?”
“I’m going to search this galaxy, planet by planet, until I find a sweater worse than the one you’ve given me tonight. And when I find it, I’m going to buy it, and box it, and wrap it. And then, next Christmas Eve… I’m going to give it to you.” Kirk kissed the point of Spock’s ear and added, “I think it may have fringe. Or sequins. Or maybe both. What do you say to that?”
Spock drew back and regarded Kirk, his eyebrow raised slightly. “There is only one thing to say to such an illogical and vindictive threat.”
“Merry Christmas, my t’hy’la.”
“Merry Christmas, my love.”