And wild and sweet, the words repeat:
Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

At 23:59:48 the first chime rang out; the crowd looked expectantly at the dais. Jim stood among them, near the front, shoulder to shoulder with his two old friends. Try as he might, he could not comprehend how the vagaries of life had brought them to this moment. It was flatly astonishing. In some strange way his whole career, his whole lifetime had been stoked, fueled, driven by the fires of hostility. And in nine seconds it was to come to an end. Must he to go out with it? How could it be otherwise? Six seconds. Chang's parting words reverberated in his head unbidden: 'We have heard the chimes at midnight'. How beautiful. How tragic. How true.

As the twelfth chime faded the room fell eerily silent. The only sound was the easy sweep of pen across parchment. At 00:00:04 the Chancellor Azetbur of the Klingon High Council put down the pen and drew Federation President Ra-ghoratrei into a fierce embrace. The room exploded in unprecedented jubilation.

Ra-ghoratrei faced the microphone. His soft voice had to be amplified many times by the comm system in order to be heard over the tumult. "Madam Chancellor," he forced over the din, "it is my honor and my pleasure to formally welcome the Klingon Empire into the peace of the Federation."

It had been popularly called 'The Christmas Day Accord' although, ironically, it had been the Klingons who had chosen the date. The timing had some unrelated significance in Klingon culture. Jim had been told more than once, but for the life of him he couldn't remember what it was. In any event, it was now a done deal. The Klingons were here to stay.

Jim braced himself for the inevitable round of whoops and backslaps. His headache was expanding exponentially with each passing minute.

"Spock," he whispered through a tight-lipped smile, "let's get the hell out of here."

Spock said nothing, but imperceptibly gathered himself to follow. Together they turned and moved for the exit.

"Hey," McCoy shouted at their backs. "Where are you going?"

"Home," Jim mouthed silently back over the crowd.

"Well hold on," McCoy protested, pushing his way over to them. "Aren't you even going to say goodbye?"

"'Goodbye'," Jim repeated sarcastically, pivoting back to the rear.

"Hey," McCoy grabbed his wrist. "I mean it," he said, intense now. "You're a part of all this; you can't just walk away."

"Bones, it's over; I'm tired. You stay if you want. We're going home."

McCoy's grip on his wrist tightened. Not that it made any practical difference. Even pushing 60 James Kirk could have broken the grip of a Klingon, much less that of the frail doctor. It was much more than the force of five fingers that held him fast.

"Jim," McCoy's eyes narrowed painfully. "She turned her back on centuries of Klingon tradition, made enemies of the most powerful men in the Empire. Jim, she watched her father bleed to death to bring us to this moment. It is a good thing. It is an amazing thing. And, dammit man, you will acknowledge that!"

Jim shot an abashed glance at Spock who remained politely impassive. Jim's smile loosened and took on just a shadow of what it had the potential to become. Yes, it was much more than five fingers that held him to this man. He shook off McCoy to rub wearily at his own temple. His headache had begun to ease just a little.

Resolved, he moved for the podium with Spock and McCoy in tow. The tightly packed crowd seemed to part down the middle. Even now Jim Kirk's mere presence could command a group like nothing else in the known galaxy.

As they reached the dais Azetbur saw them over the shoulder of the Andorian President. She smiled and turned towards Jim. "Thank you," she said looking past him to embrace McCoy warmly.

"Captain." She raised her hand in the Vulcan salute. Spock responded in kind.

"Captains," she corrected herself, finally acknowledging Kirk with a warriors' salute.

Spock inclined his head gravely. "Madam Chancellor, may I congratulate you and your party on the successful negotiations. The Federation has gained immeasurably from the vision of your father and the work of your family."

"Thank you, Spock. My family has been honored to work with yours towards this great day. Rest assured, your efforts will not be forgotten in the Empire. You have given my people a second chance for life." Alien or no, there could be no doubt as to the sincerity in her voice.

More than a little shamed, Kirk added his voice. "Madam Chancellor, it is my pleasure to welcome your people into the Federation as not only as allies, but, I trust, as friends." He searched her face expecting to find the same wary half-trust he had almost suppressed in his own. With some shock he recognized what he was seeing for a sort of amused pity. Surely James T. Kirk could manage a bit better than that. He amended, "And I thank you for making possible something I never thought I would see--peace in our time. It is a great gift indeed." And this time, he managed to mean it.

Azetbur smiled ruefully. "A gift, Captain? I think not. No, you have been given nothing. Any tenuous peace we have achieved has been dearly purchased by many, yourself not the least among them. And somehow I doubt that we are done paying yet."

"A hard outlook, Madam," Kirk said, eyeing her intently.

"From a woman from a hard world," she agreed.

"Well," said Kirk, relenting just a little, "perhaps now you have a chance to mold it more to your liking."

"That we do, Captain. That we do."

He extended a hand. She accepted it gracefully with a surprisingly firm shake. And then she turned back to the Andorian delegation.

Jim led the way back across the room and into the empty corridor. Finding a turbolift to the flight decks, Jim sagged against the wall.

"Problem, Jim?" McCoy asked, surveying him with some concern.

Massaging his throbbing temple Kirk mumbled, "In the future, gentlemen, kindly remind me to avoid the gagh."

Spock locked his hands behind his back and kept his gaze front and center. "Actually, Jim, live gagh is high in nutritional value and contains almost no compounds toxic to humanoids. Are you certain it was not the considerable quantity of ethanol you consumed concurrently?"

Jim shot Spock a venomous look, but silently straightened himself. "I thought you were supposed to be on my side," he grumbled. He jumped involuntarily as an unexpected sting pierced his arm. "Hey, what was that?"

McCoy was already restowing the hypo he had pulled from somewhere. "For six more days at least, I am still your doctor," he said testily. "Or would you rather have a hangover?" He bounced on his toes a little too cheerfully.

"I thought you were staying behind at the reception," Jim muttered grumpily as he tugged his uniform back down.

"Me? Nah, I never said that. I have to get up early and finish clearing out my office."

"You know, you can get a crew to do that for you."

"No. Some of the specimens are delicate. You know those damned kids these days don't know how to handle anything that isn't hardwired. Meet you for dinner?"

Jim glanced at Spock who gave a tiny nod of assent. "Sure. Our place, 19:30?"

"Sure." McCoy shrugged his jacket off and stretched out his shirt collar fruitlessly. Resigned for the duration, he took the moment to just look at the couple. They stood erect, shoulder to shoulder, resplendent in full dress uniform, the power and the glory, truly timeless. One day he might be able to express what they meant to him. But not tonight. This night was for bigger things.

When the doors slid open, McCoy's voice held none of the usual sarcasm. "You know Jim, this is really amazing. My god, man, you have done wondrous things." McCoy gave them one last, incredulous look as he stepped through the doorway. The lift doors hissed closed and he was gone.

Arriving at their aircar, Jim slumped unceremoniously into the co-pilot's seat as Spock went through the brief preflight check. 3000 feet over the bay, Spock took in the quiet beauty of the night. Looking over at the adjoining seat, he saw he was the only one.

"Are you still unwell?" Spock inquired unnecessarily. Through their link he knew that whatever the trouble, it went much deeper than merely physical.

"Just a little heartsick, Spock. It really is over, isn't it?" he asked rhetorically. He could have meant the reception, the conferences, the negotiations, but it didn't sound like it. Spock waited.

"In six days I retire--no longer a part of any of this. No rank, no duties, no command, no anything. What will I be then?"

"Jim, what is, is, regardless of any label attached to it. May I submit that the relevant question is: what will you do then?"

"What can I do?" Jim sighed. "Everything I know is wrong. I spent my entire adult life sworn to defend the Federation against her enemies, the Klingons. And now," he said with a sardonic smile, "now I find myself sworn to defend those very erstwhile enemies with my life." He shook his head. "No. My time is over. And that terrifies me."

He looked at Spock with an openness that few men could find within themselves. "Spock, this amity is what I have lived for, have fought for, have almost died for time and time again. How can I now be so shallow, so petty as to be afraid for myself?" The simple, unfettered honesty in his face was almost painful to behold.

"Jim," Spock began slowly, but not uncertainly. "I believe on your earth there is a story."

Jim made a face. "Spare me the gnomic commentary. Can't I just feel sorry for myself for a few minutes? I think I've earned it."

"I believe you will find this apropos," Spock continued smoothly. "It involves a man who at the age of 33 came to save mankind. He suffered greatly and endured many trials for the sake of bringing peace and reconciliation to earth. In the end he offered his very life. And near the end he too was afraid."


The Vulcan continued as if there had been no interruption. "According to my understanding, this man spent a period of time in reflection and conquered his fear through two realizations. First, that what he was to face was not the end of life, but a transition to a new world, a perfect life, and his true destiny. The transition though which he would buy salvation for the world." Spock's fingers played over the controls bringing the car down near their old Berkeley residence. "And secondly," he added, eyes fixed solidly on the controls, "he realized that by the very nature of what he was, he would never be, could never be, alone."

The car set down gently on the North Shattuck overlook beside the old Indian Rock. Years ago there had been some talk of blasting it to make room for more high-rises, but the grassroots petition had won the day. The rock remained. In the glow of the car's running lights he could see the carved names, dates and initials going back hundreds of years--before the climbers knew anything of Klingons or spaceflight. Through the changing years pioneers of the west and pioneers of the spaceage all climbed the same rock, scratched the same memorial, looked over the same bay. So much had changed, but in the end so much was ever the same.

The flitter lights cut off. Jim opened his mouth, but whatever he would have said was lost as the door hissed open. An ear splitting howl pierced the cabin, starting him to his feet.

"Klingons!" Jim bristled, automatically grabbing a phaser from the weapons locker as he whirled. The sound faded in the crisp night air. Searching through the dark he found them. Three Klingons, arm in arm, either drunk or just very happy, wandering up Solano. The locals gave them berth, but essentially ignored them as was done with any other tourists on any other day in any other town in the Federation.

Shamefaced, Jim poked his head back in the flitter to give Spock a rueful grin. "Old soldiers never die--" he began. But Spock wasn't paying attention. He had his head cocked, intent on something else. Tuning out the sounds of the street, his erstwhile enemies, happy Federation citizens, Jim heard it too. Bells.

The ethereal music rang out wild and sweet across the miles from the old Berkeley carillon. A very old carol from a time very long ago. A time that was, perhaps, was not so very different after all for their own. They stood entranced, frozen to the spot until the last vibrations faded over the hills. The notes were more than beautiful in their own right, but would Spock realize the significance of the words as well? Jim once thought to ask, but somehow it no longer seemed important.

Jim grinned and reached back to replace the phaser. Turning to straighten he jumped to find that Spock had moved silently to stand surprisingly close beside him. Feeling a little foolish, he fingered the locking mechanism on the cache.

He was even more surprised when the Vulcan reached in to remove his hand from the weapons stash and take it gently in his own. The unexpected contact melted something inside Jim's middle. My god, after all this time, it was still like this whenever Spock touched him. Leaving his shields wide open Spock willingly accepted the tumultuous emotions, cherishing every second that this man's mind was open to him and only to him.

Firmly but gently he turned Jim around to face the western horizon where the sun had sunk far out of view. Still holding his hand, he pulled Jim backward into his own body, guiding him. There on the bluff he locked his arms tightly around the human, holding him close. For a long moment Jim allowed himself to sink deeply into the beloved hollows. The inhumanly fast fluttering of Spock's heart sent wave after wave of quivers across his back, drowning him. The Vulcan's breath swirled hot and moist around his ear. A smooth chin brushed his jaw, his neck, his hair. Unexpectedly, Jim felt the last bit of whatever it was that had been mired inside of him slowly dissolving away.

"Merry Christmas, Jim."

"Spock, you know I don't--"

The Vulcan squeezed his hand effectively stemming any protest. Willing Jim to see what he saw, he kept his gaze turned to the west, to the bay, the city.

And then he saw it. Klingon and Terran ships drifting lazily together over the water, the city. The red and green running lights of the Earth standard flitters mixing so casually with the blue alien glow of the Klingon runabouts. And down below the perpetual city by the bay was bustling cheerfully on this clear newborn Christmas day. It looked the same as ever. The lights, the traffic, the bistros, the theaters all humming merrily along. But Jim knew that today something was different. Today 8000 Klingons also moved down there, somewhere among the denizens. He knew it, but as hard as he looked, he could see no difference.

"Merry Christmas, Jim," Spock breathed quietly into his ear. "This is what you have given."