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December 24th 2283

She’d always loved snow for Christmas.

Spock eased back on the throttle of his rented flitter, cutting his speed as he cruised over the snow-blanketed evergreen forests near Broughton, in the Washington territory of North America. He recalled the lyrics of the ancient song she played repeatedly during the holidays: “…where the treetops glisten.” The treetops did glisten in the morning sun.

Roberta would have loved it.

His angular features tightened fractionally. His great aunt Roberta Grayson had passed away in the spring, with Spock and Saavik at her bedside. The loss was still fresh; this would be their first Christmas without her. He had grown to enjoy his visits here, especially at Christmas. Roberta believed in celebrating an “old-fashioned holiday,” and it was always a peaceful time. The solitude and quiet of the green, dark forests did him a world of good. He would return from leave with, as Jim Kirk put it, his “batteries recharged.”

Spock banked the little ship and eased it into a landing approach glide. Ahead, the rustic oak and pine estate of Mountain View nestled in a secluded clearing in the woods. Smoke curled from the chimney, and even at this distance, he could make out the pine roping draped over the eaves, the beautiful evergreen wreaths hanging in every window. Roberta Grayson only permitted decorations provided by nature on the exterior of the lodge. Strings of popcorn hung from the trees; flocks of chittering, chirping birds scuffled over the unexpected bounty of food. He brought the flitter down in a vertical descent and landed with barely a bump in the pristine, unmarked snow. He shrugged into his burgundy field jacket and opened the hatch. The fresh aroma of the pine forests greeted him. His breath hung in an icy cloud in front of his face in the biting cold.

A parka-clad figure crunched toward him through the glittering, sunlit snow. Ray Fowler, caretaker of the estate, awkwardly spread his gloved fingers into the V-shaped ta’al, the Vulcan salute.

“Live long and prosper, Spock.”

“Live long and prosper, Mister Fowler,” Spock intoned, returning the gesture. He glanced around in approval. “You have decorated the estate according to Roberta’s specifications.”

“I've got a lotta practice,” Fowler said, beaming. “I always been the one to hang up all that stuff anyway.”

His smile dimmed.

“Too bad the ol’ girl ain’t here t’ see ‘em herself this year.”

“Indeed,” Spock said, nodding slightly in agreement. He returned his attention to Fowler. “Did my package arrive, Ray?”

“Yep – just like always. The box is on the couch in the living room.”

“Thank you.”

“Make yerself at home,” Fowler said. “You know where everything is. Ceptin' for running the central heating system when it gets really cold, I haven’t changed a thing.”

Indeed he hadn’t.

Spock stepped into the sprawling cabin. As always a fire roared in the stone fireplace, painting the walls and the polished oaken floor with a golden glow. The old-style holopic, depicting a 7.432 year old smiling Spock, still perched atop the bookcase. Mugs of Underwood-brand candy canes, Roberta’s favorites, sat on end tables and shelves. Poinsettias in foil-wrapped pots had been strategically placed all about the cabin. The living room was bedecked with pine boughs and evergreen swags. A tall, bushy blue spruce dominated a corner of the room, waiting to be festooned with antique ornaments, sparkling tinsel and garland roping. Strands of miniature glow pups, Roberta’s only concession to modern Christmas decorating conventions, shone brightly on the branches, already strung on the branches by Ray Fowler. Memories of he and Saavik decorating the Christmas tree brought an involuntary smile to the Vulcan’s lips. Saavik always put the star on top as Roberta watched delightedly from her wing chair by the fireplace…

His gaze shifted to her chair, and a lump formed in his throat.

Everything in the mountain retreat was just as it had been last Christmas – except that the house’s matriarch was gone.

The big old estate felt empty, lifeless, even though boxes of ornaments sat beneath the tree, and the star topper lay on a soft cloth on Roberta’s work desk, awaiting Saavik’s arrival later that evening.

Spock noted with a pang of sadness that her sketchbook was still open to the final drawing she had been working on at the time of her death.

The house would never be the same – never again. Spock found himself illogically wishing that Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past would appear and whisk him away to happier times.

He hung his jacket on a wall hook. The unmistakable aroma of buttered popcorn beckoned to him from the kitchen, and he pushed his way through the swinging doors. Still warm; Fowler had apparently popped it for Spock when he had begun his approach glide. Spock took a fluffy white piece from the old red bowl and munched experimentally. He nodded in approval.

“You pop corn like a Grayson, Ray,” he murmured.

He busied himself in the kitchen, preparing a steaming mug of cocoa. Webs of snow had drifted into the corners of the windowpanes. Spock sipped thoughtfully on the hot beverage as he gazed out into the woods, watching the flocks of birds that congregated around the feeders and popcorn strings on the trees. Wrens, nuthatches, and chickadees dominated the feeding stations this morning, along with a few goldfinches, who had cast off their brilliant canary yellow summer plumage for their drab brown winter coats. Roberta had always favored the saucy little chickadees, sensing in them kindred spirits. Like her, they were stubborn, opinionated and prickly. Their spirited "chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee" call sounded more combative than cheerful. They were understatedly beautiful little birds, and Spock found their antics to be quite entertaining.

Spock strolled out into the living room and sank down on the overstuffed sofa. He almost fancied that he could still see her sitting in her old wing chair, just as she had on the first Christmas he had visited Mountain View over forty-two Terran years ago. The ghost of a smile quirked the corners of his mouth, and his mind drifted, unbidden, back through the years...

December 24th 2240

"You wrapped this yourself, child?" Roberta Grayson's intense blue eyes crinkled at the corners in amusement as she studied eight year old Spock. He stood ramrod straight, his expression solemn, with his hands clasped behind his back. The warm glow from the fireplace cast flickering highlights in his black bangs. She cradled the large, exquisitely-wrapped package she balanced on her lap.

"Yes, Aunt Roberta," Spock replied.

"Well, you did an elegant job." Indeed, the gift box was precision-wrapped in opalescent silver paper with ice blue bows and ribbons. This clearly had to be the work of a professional, not an eight year old Vulcan boy.

"I observed the clerks at Sackstetter's gift wrap department when Mother and I went shopping," he returned. "It is not a difficult procedure."

"That's one of the things I like about Sackstetter's," she said. "They still do things the old-fashioned way. No robo-wrappers for them; Humans still do gift wrapping."

"Inefficient," Spock said. "However, wrapping the box was an interesting exercise. I found it to be...diverting."

"Seems almost a shame to unwrap it and destroy such fine workmanship." Roberta carefully slipped a finger under the tape and gingerly popped it up. She managed to get the paper off in one piece and gently laid it aside.

She opened the box. Her face drained of color, and tears welled up in her eyes.

Spock canted an eyebrow.

"Have I offended you in some way, Aunt Roberta?"

"Oh, no!" Roberta sniffled and wiped her eyes. "No, it's wonderful! Just kinda caught me by surprise is all."

"I heard you telling Mother how Uncle David got you a poinsettia plant and an Underwood jumbo peppermint candy cane every Christmas," he said. "You told her how much you missed receiving those gifts since he passed away. I thought perhaps you might find it gratifying to receive them again. I...appear to have miscalculated; I did not expect you to weep."

"No! No!" Roberta cried as she took the poinsettia and candy cane from the box. "These are tears of joy, Spock."

"Illogical," Spock returned, shaking his head. "Tears of joy. It is a difficult concept."

She laughed. "Don't fret, dear. You'll get used to us illogical Humans eventually."

Roberta folded Spock in her arms and kissed the top of his head. "The first time Dave got them for me, it was meant as a gag gift, actually, but it was so endearing. It became a tradition; I looked forward to it every year. You've made me happier than you can know, Spock."

"Then...I have achieved my objective?" Spock queried.

"Yes - you have achieved your objective..."

December 24th 2283

Thus began a new tradition that had endured these last forty-two years. Every year, Spock made sure that Roberta Grayson received a poinsettia plant and an Underwood jumbo peppermint candy cane from Sackstetter's, even when he couldn't visit her personally.

Spock set down his empty mug and pulled on his field jacket. He grabbed the big box off the sofa and stepped through the French doors out onto the rear deck. He paused a moment, squinting against the almost blinding sunshine, until he got his bearings.

Then he headed up the hillside, slogging through the knee-deep snow.

In the summer, the little plot was a pleasant green space, bursting with flowers and ground cover of all sorts. A white picket fence surrounded the area, with the headstone positioned so that it overlooked the Mountain View estate. The legend was carved into a titanium plate fastened to the simple stone:

2202 - 2282

Spock bent down and opened the box. He removed its contents - an Underwood jumbo candy cane and a poinsettia plant - and placed them on her grave. He switched on the power pack attached to the pot, activating the force field that would perfectly maintain the plant's temperature and water level.

A lone tear tracked down his cheek - no doubt coaxed out by the bitter cold temperature. He stood for a moment with his head bowed, paying his respects.

Then he trudged down the hill to the welcoming warmth of Mountain View.

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